Who would have thought that salvation would come in the form of a man with the self-ascribed moniker McG? But it has. McG, who made angels fall from the sky (Charlie's, at least), has resurrected a nearly terminated story and sparked life back into both man and machine.
It probably goes without saying that T2 was the best of the Terminator movies to date. Somewhere between the action sequences, the character development, and Linda Hamilton's bulging biceps, nirvana was found. However, McG has created a fine addition to the series in Terminator Salvation, though he does explosive heat better than burning heart.
Even if you haven't seen the preceding Terminator films (and you should), there is just enough history imbedded in the latest one to catch you up. And that apocalyptic story is: Man created computers that became self-aware and decided that their creators posed a threat to their continued survival. Machines launched an attack that killed most of mankind, an event that would come to be known as Judgment Day. The few survivors, far from being lucky, formed a resistance led by John Connor and fought back.
The previous Terminator films dealt with the world prior to Judgment Day, when killing machines, aka Terminators, were sent back to prevent Connor (now played by Christian Bale) from being born. Terminator Salvation takes place during the time between Judgment Day and the start of the time travel; it's the story of Connor's rise to lead the rebellion. It's also about the machines' attempts to kill Connor's father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), because killing mom turned out to be a little more challenging than anticipated.
Since the film takes place in a world ruled by machines, and Terminators wander around in abundance, the face of the enemy has taken on new forms. The first is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), executed for murder but resurrected as a hybrid machine/man. Even he is unaware of his true nature, which makes for a heart vs. programming dilemma as the movie progresses. The second enemy is the machine itself, Skynet, which is personified by Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter).
Terminator Salvation does one thing very well: action. It does one thing incredibly poorly: character development. McG put all his eggs into one basket and blew it up. Fortunately for him, the explosions, the special effects, the machines, and the fight scenes are enough to win out over the lack of acting prowess in the film. Big explosions equal big fun in this one.
Granted, McG and writers John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris aren't the most original in their story or storytelling, with numerous allusions to other films throughout Terminator Salvation. You'll see shades of the previous Terminators, The Matrix, I Am Legend, and, yes, even Charlie's Angels, but for the most part McG pieces these bits together in a manner that's more paying tribute to them and less ripping them off.
Perhaps the biggest (human) failing in the film is Bale's casting as Connor. Bale demanded a rewrite of the script to increase his role and it's obvious. The film really belongs to Worthington as Marcus Wright. Bale resorts to the same low, gravelly voice he used as Batman to deliver most of Connor's lines; it was annoying in The Dark Knight and it's worse now. Bale only barely manages to stumble through the emotional scenes (which are thankfully brief) by the skin of his clenched teeth.
Worthington, on the other hand, is the one to keep your eye on. His performance is downright intense. Easy on the eyes and rough around the edges, Worthington brings a needed edge to the film. His Australian accent emerges at odd moments, but even as a half machine he's a more convincing man than Bale.
Yelchin, who is having the best summer ever since he appears in both Terminator Salvation and Star Trek, is perfectly fine as young Kyle Reese. Much like his role in Trek, he does exactly what he needs to do, but doesn't stand out dramatically one way or the other. Bonham Carter gets far less screen time and leaves a much deeper impression. Her large eyes and frightfully sunken cheeks are far more terrifying than any machine.
There are lots of nitpicky things to point out as flaws in Terminator Salvation: poor editing, a stilted plot, and a brief cameo that must have required a lot of CGI work. But if you're looking for an action flick where things go boom, bodies pile up, men fight with guns and fists, and every woman is beautiful (Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood in particular), you got it.
Terminator Salvation ends perfectly T'ed up for number five. Far from flickering out, the Terminator's red eyes are burning bright (start Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation). You can bet it will be back.