It’s really a shame that since Cameron left the franchise each TERMINATOR movie has gotten steadily worse than the last. I don’t know how much potential the series really ever had. The second movie was arguably better than the first but only because it was a remake of the first with an appropriate budget. The set pieces didn’t change much (Arnold steals somebody’s clothes, gets a motorcycle to look cool riding around on, has a number of car chases where somebody chases a car on foot, somebody drives a truck through stuff, various vehicles blow up real good, some cyborg gets alternately fried and frozen) and while the first was inventive, the second was impressive. Then Cameron figured that continuing to do the same movie over and over wasn’t really the way he wanted his career to go. Other, less talented people didn’t feel the same way. The third movie had desperation written all over it. “Lets give John Connor a love interest!” “Howsabout we have a girl terminator this time?” “Don’t forget the truck chase, it’s tradition!” But at least the third movie tried to add a little to the mythos with the surprise (yawn) ending of having the war start while emo John Connor and his squeeze (a totally wasted Claire Danes) twiddle their thumbs at the bottom of a bomb shelter.
The fourth movie couldn’t even be bothered to do that. Instead it’s just a lot of blowing things up and running around fighting a war that is surprisingly little seen. I actually caught myself nodding off in the theater! All the set pieces are there, even a completely stupid scene where John Connor hijacks an automated motorcycle sentry by using a trick that was old when they used it in 1920s westerns, and then pulls something off the top of it and drives away on it. Did nobody wonder why an autonomous motorcycle would have controls to allow a human to use it? But they didn’t seem to put any thought into anything else in the movie, so why start there? The storyline consists of pulling bits and pieces off the first two movies and reshooting them. Even little bits of business like a terminator driving a truck with a broken windshield and pushing it out so that he can see the road. And if you are looking for a war movie where a rag tag group of freedom fighters squares off against a horde of artificially intelligent killing machines, rent the ANIMATRIX and watch THE SECOND RENAISSANCE parts 1 and 2. It’s much better and actually had some thought put into it.
Director McG and writers John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris don’t limit themselves to only stealing from the first two Terminator movies and old westerns, they also lift from the Abyss and even include a giant Transformer that appears to be made of junk and can’t shoot worth a damn. Christian Bale also steals his performance from a block of wood, never managing to evoke any sympathy or charisma for his character. Not that there is much chance for that to happen in the script. The one thing that the filmmakers didn’t bother to steal was Cameron’s attempt to put a human face on the conflict. There are no character defining moments like the love story in the first movie or the boy gets mechanical killing machine surrogate father subplot in the second. Even when there are places where such relationships might grow they are announced and then discarded. (Mostly because they don’t make sense. Tell me, are you honestly going to fall in love with somebody right away and then remain faithful to your feelings when you find out he’s a robot designed to kill you? Talk about abusive relationships!) The result is that the movie has as much soul as Skynet itself. With no characters to care about and nothing interesting in the plot it seems more like spending two hours at a combined gun show/Nascar race than a movie.
It seems obvious why the movie is called TERMINATOR: SALVATION. It’s nothing but an attempt to salvage a dying franchise. Obviously nobody gave a damn about making a movie, just putting the corpse of the previous movies on life support until they could harvest the organs. And they are so sure there is still money to suck out this cadaver that it even ends with a flock of helicopters flying into the sunset and a John Connor voiceover that basically says, “Tune in next time for more thrilling adventures.” Too bad nobody connected to the film bothered to give anyone any reason to see this movie or the inevitable sequels they have planned. Almost everything J.J. Abrams did right in his reboot of Star Trek, McG ignores in this retread. It’s dead, Jim.