Terminator Salvation is a loud bore. It's part gritty war film, and part world-torn apocalypse, but none of it seems fresh. And only about half of it is entertaining.
This being a big-budget summer movie, there are some notable action sequences that make for grand - occasionally exhilarating - onscreen spectacles. You can see where the money was spent: robots and amped-up explosions. But those moments with the sound effects cranked up are followed by long periods of plodding drama that drag down the film.
The original Terminator thrilled with almost unrelenting tension. Terminator Salvation, though, starts-stops the fun through much of its first half. The second half picks up the pace, but even then it fails to sustain the excitement.
It's a shame, too, because the story is ripe for a Hollywood spectacle.
The first three Terminators hinted at a future doomsday for mankind. Machines destroyed much of the planet in a nuclear annihilation and are on the verge of bringing the human race to extinction. After the failure of the unintentionally comical Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the future of the Terminator franchise - if there was one - seemed to be set in that bleak future.
Terminator Salvation, though, squanders much of what was a good idea in a film that's not very good.
Christian Bale, who brought along his Batman-as-Clint Eastwood dramatic whisper, is John Connor, humanity's only hope. Connor is helping to lead the resistance's forces against the machines.
Humans are clearly outmatched and outgunned in this war. Then Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) shows up. Wright is the future of the Terminators: a fleshy human grafted over a steel skeleton frame. Only Wright believes he's human, while Connor considers him to be the next big threat to humanity's survival. When Connor discovers that Skynet, the super computer/program running the machines, has plans to capture and kill his future father from the past, a teenaged Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, also seen in theaters as Pavel Chekov in Star Trek), he also knows Wright is the only one who can help him. The two intend to infiltrate a machine base, rescue Reese and other humans held prisoner there, and hopefully destroy Skynet, perhaps even bringing an end to the war.
Because the Terminator franchise has fallen on bad times, including the recent cancellation of the Fox TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Bale brings badly needed credibility to this film, and some box-office muscle with the performance of last summer's The Dark Knight. But unlike the tormented vigilante Batman, there's little depth to Connor. The character has a rich background from the previous films, but in Terminator Salvation Connor has devolved into a one-dimensional super soldier. Even his interactions with his wife, Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) are void of any emotion other than edgy angst.
Worthington, like Bale, also is largely wasted on a character that's never really interesting. Wright never proves to be as formidable or as memorable as Terminators from the past; he's not even the most interesting Terminator in this movie. It's the iconic Terminators - the walking metal skeleton nightmares with glowing red eyes and massive guns - that give the film a much-needed jolt of excitement.
Stylistically, Terminator Salvation director McG (Charlie's Angels) has made the most distinctive-looking movie in the series. His apocalypse come to grim life is a grainy film awash in drab colors, with smoke lingering in nearly every frame.
Terminator Salvation is a film you want to like in large part because the first two movies by Jim Cameron are classics, and deservedly made the franchise so popular. But Terminator Salvation is the rare big-budget, sci-fi war movie spectacle that doesn't prove to be as mindless as it is dull.
For those keeping score, Terminator Salvation isn't nearly to the level of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It is, however, light years ahead of its third predecessor.
If nothing else, Terminator Salvation proves there is still life in the Terminator franchise. Just barely.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.