Published May 20, 2009Stuff explodes, men fight robots that look like men, giant machines patrol the bombed-out surface of the Earth, stuff continues to explode. Terminator Salvation, the fourth instalment in the Terminator franchise, blasts its way onto the big screen, but where series creator James Cameron's first two films (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) are great science fiction with a creamy action filling this new instalment is simply a great action movie with an action filling.
Terminator Salvation is an over-the-top, big budget, visually exciting, viscerally entertaining summer blockbuster of epic proportions, and had it been named Wicked Post-Apocalyptic Summer Blockbuster instead of Terminator Salvation it would be amongst the best of the genre. But, as part of the Terminator franchise, it's missing one all-important element: intelligent storytelling.
The Terminator saga is long and complex, so if you are new to the franchise it's safe to say that John Connor (Christian Bale) and A.I. computer system Skynet have some interpersonal issues. Terminator Salvation picks up Connor's story in 2018, several years after the nuclear war known as Judgement Day has come to pass. Rag-tag pockets of humanity known as the Resistance are fighting the Skynet mechanical army. Cue explosions.
And therein lies the problem with Terminator Salvation. Other than the sci-fi set pieces, like the heretofore-unseen Terminator played by Sam Worthington, and the spectacular giant machines, the plot could have been lifted from any number of action movies or videogames, boiling down to a simple "infiltrate and destroy" story. It's fun to watch but it falls short of the high bar James Cameron set for his franchise.
After 25 years and huge leaps in special effects technology The Terminator still manages to captivate audiences with its great story and well-drawn characters. Terminator Salvation misses those all-important points. The characters, including Bale's John Connor, are all based on a "tough military guy" template, with the notable exception of Anton Yelchin's (Huff, Star Trek) empathetic portrayal of a young Kyle Reese.
And Skynet's plan seems pretty flawed when examined in the cold light of the theatre lobby, not the stuff you'd expect from an evil, super-intelligent computer system that discovers time-travel and creates something as creepy as Robert Patrick... I mean, the T-1,000.
Should you open your wallet to see Terminator Salvation on the big screen? Absolutely. The Skynet machines make the Transformers look like toys and the post-apocalyptic landscape makes Mad Max look like a vacation video from an Australian beach resort. But fans will be disappointed at seeing James Cameron's clever plot lines and interesting characters replaced by generic scripting and mindless automatons.