Overview: The only Terminator movie to deviate from the established formula, and thus manages to screw itself up. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2009; PG-13; 115 minutes.
Come With Me If You Want Disappointment: McG. It’s because of McG this project struggled to be anything better than mediocre. I think this is one of those entertainingly mediocre movies, mostly because it’s the single entry in the franchise that at least goes for something more than what is constituted by its time travel premise. That sci-fi concept is the kick-off to every other plot in the series, so what we have here is a generic action film with the most un-original first two-thirds of a film in the franchise yet (though, at least it’s not lit like a TV sitcom, like Rise of the Machines). Christian Bale does decent work here as John Connor in his pre-savior days. For context, imagine Jesus gathering the apostles, as that’s exactly what happens here, only in a far less interesting way. Add to that mix Bryce Dallas Howard who is fine, Common, who is also fine, and Sam Worthington who is (surprise, surprise) fine as well. Everyone is fine in the acting department. They aren’t the problem. The problem is with the direction and story. The actors in Terminator Salvation are given nothing to work with, and they suffer for it.
A Viable Spectacle: In McG’s Terminator film, his characters just sort of meander about, bumping into one another in order to propel the plot along, though this might have been better had we received any understanding into any of these character motivations, beyond the stale, action-hero character shells with which we are presented. There’s some thematic stuff worth exploring, like when Worthington’s character discovers he’s a cyborg, which seems like a pretty big deal that should be touched upon given John Connor’s history with the machines. Bottom line, it’s not all bad. There’s some solid action set pieces, and the robots are interesting enough (I personally fancy the worm-robot-snake Terminators quite a bit).
Lacking Closure: The best part of the movie (for me) is the finale. The third act’s final climax involves an assault on a Terminator factory that finally shows us more of the future stuff we were aching to see. It’s all a little too little too late, but I did genuinely enjoy it. The thing is, Terminator Salvation is actually follows in the direction any future Terminator sequels should be heading in. Post-apocalyptic tales are always worth exploring (even if they do support an ultimately finite interest level), but often suffer from good ideas supported by a mediocre level of execution, and Salvation is no exception. McG as a director is far too careless in establishing the stakes at hand, so the film feels as though there aren’t any.
Overall: In Terminator Salvation, a great cast of actors is wasted on a poorly written script, resulting in another disappointing entry in a once great franchise (though I won’t say the film doesn’t have its moments).