Terminator Salvation is one of the most visually impressive films in the series. The action is non-stop, and the look borders on dazzling.
Fittingly for a movie about machines, director McG (Charlie's Angels) and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris have cobbled this together from bits of earlier models — effects and action beats from recent Dark Knight movies, settings from earlier Terminators. But ironically for a series that's supposed to be about an embattled humanity struggling against those who lack it, there isn't an emotional moment in this.
A murderer (Sam Worthington) is executed in 2003, but not before a cancer-stricken researcher (Helena Bonham Carter) talks him into donating his body to science. Darned if 15 years later killer Marcus doesn't wake up after a rebel raid on a Skynet facility to find himself in the middle of the war between ever-upgrading machines and the humans who once controlled them.
Christian Bale is Connor, the messianic voice of the resistance, broadcasting by shortwave, rallying commandos for strikes against the strongholds of the robots. The cities are a wasteland, but Connor has hope. His mom (Linda Hamilton, on cassette tapes) prepped him for the future, the one that visited her in the past and impregnated her. Connor needs to find and protect Kyle Reese, played by Anton Yelchin as the well-armed teen who will grow up to be his father (Michael Biehn in 1984's The Terminator).
Memorable lines are recycled: "Come with me if you want to live." "I'll be back."
But as fierce as the firefights are, as stoically heroic as Bale is in this lead role (nobody lights a flare with as much flair as Christian Bale), the movie lacks a villain we can focus on or a character we really root for. That makes this a Transformers movie without the wit, a Terminator without the pathos.
It's far from awful, but Salvation is close to joyless, something easily predicted when this redundant film was first announced. After three earlier films and a just-canceled TV series, you'd think that a new installment in the People vs. Skynet saga would be unnecessary. Sadly for McG and his fellow recyclers, that's the one prophecy here that proves to be true.