From the shelves of the L.A. Library to my DVD player to your eyes.
CHROME-PLATED SPOILERS, SO BEWARE.
It’s a very telling thing when a movie about humans versus machines has little to no real human feeling in it.
Take away all the explosions and gunfire and the basic plot is the same as it’s always been for the Terminator movies: the machines attempt to kill John Connor (Christian Bale).
But why should we care?
Connor is as much of a machine as the Skynet chrome-bots that he battles. He is singular of purpose in his unending quest to destroy Skynet, and he never shows emotion. Sure he screams a lot, but then has to whisper in his Batman voice. He has a wife, Kate (introduced in T3, and now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) who is pregnant but no real time is spent with them. He never even talks about his unborn child. Arnold Schwarzengger’s Terminator character in T2 comes across as more human than Bale’s Connor.
Half the movie is focused on Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who donated his body to science, via the creepy Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham-Carter). When she succumbs to her cancer, her research into genetics is absorbed by Skynet. The stupid trailers for this movie gave away the fact that Marcus was a machine (he’s never called a Terminator, but an Infiltrator), so there was absolutely no surprise when that moment was revealed in the film. Way to go, assholes.
The movie does several Stupid Movie Things, the first of which is when Marcus meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and is totally surprised by Skynet and the machines and basically that the world has experienced a nuclear holocaust and KYLE NEVER THINKS THAT’S ODD. Marcus is older than Kyle so how can he NOT have experienced these things. Kyle never asks this simple question and Marcus never tells him. Marcus does his “stranger in a strange land” bit again when they stop at an old gas station and run into a pocket of survivors. NOBODY ASKS WHY MARCUS IS ACTING SO WEIRD. It is at this same location where Stupid Movie Thing No. 2 happens: as the humans are talking a GIANT four story tall Harvester robot punches its fist through the roof, scoops up a pair of folks, and drops them in a nearby Hunter Killer’s cattle car. These two huge machines make all the noise in the world when the scene cuts to the outside of the gas station and we see them in their glory, but BOY, THEY CAN SURE SNEAK UP ON SOME BITCHES!
Connor and Marcus scream alot but eventually put aside their differences and sort of work together to attack the Skynet facility in San Francisco where Connor's father to be Kyle has been taken.
I simply did not care one wit about anything that happened in this movie. Terminator 1 and 2 had simple storylines that were easy to follow. The action scenes moved the story forward. Terminator 3 threw a wrench into the works, but Salvation appears to blow the whole thing up. I have no idea what’s going on (how does this movie fit into the continuity of the previous films?), aside from the machines wanting to kill JC, and I don’t really care (they story has given me no reason to care).
Christian Bale is wrong for this role. He is SO tightly wound that its ridiculous. He really has no warm or humanity here and that's what's desperately needed. Yes, he makes a speech or two about humanity vs the unfeeling machines, but its lip service. In a better story his lack of humanity could be an interesting story arc: the man who hates the machines so much he essentially "becomes" one. He could shun Kate's overtures of love, and run his men down into the ground expecting them to perform as well as the machines. Perhaps in the parallel universe seen on the show Fringe this happened in THEIR version of Salvation.
The influence of Transformers is evident in the addition of the giant Harvester robots (is that really the best way to collect humans? I doubt it). The new grungy, grimey Terminators look like huge thugs (this is not a compliment). This movie cost in the neighborhood of $200 million dollars. The original Terminator cost just under $7 million, and its depiction of the machine-dominated future was much more interesting than the one on display here. It got little details right, like having the Resistence wear camoflague in grays and blacks, to make them blend in with the demolished concrete cities. In Salvation they sport the same black vests and black mercenary garb of any movie with thugs-n-guns. The flying Hunter Killers in the pre-digital T1 didn't zip around like they were in a cartoon. This is proof positive that more money does NOT automatically get you a better film.
This movie feels a lot like that one season of Lost just before the network announced that that show will have a definite ending date. Before that announcement Lost was just spinning its wheels; they couldn’t advance their story because they didn’t know if it was going to be told over five seasons, or ten (the network finally settled on six seasons, and their storytelling got TIGHT). Terminator Salvation, which was announced as the first of a new trilogy, feels very much like it’s just spinning its chrome wheels and going nowhere.
The other problem, besides spinning wheels, is that there really is NO MORE STORY TO TELL WITH THIS FRANCHISE. T1 and T2 tried to avert a nuclear war by the machines. T3 showed they failed. Now it’s the future, the holocaust has happened, we’ve seen the massive machine armies. What’s left? (They still have to defeat the machines at some point in this post-apocalyptic future, but is that a Terminator story anymore, or just another future shoot-em up?) I guess the time travel device that we’ve heard about from the first three movies but never seen has to rear its head. Oh, goody. Maybe this series can fold in on itself and make sure the new trilogy (and maybe T3 too) never happened.