Terminator Salvation | rated PG-13 (V) | starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Helena Bonham-Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard | directed by McG | 1:55 mins | the following is a review from an advanced screening of the film

I really want to blame self-indulgent Charlie’s Angels director McG for this, particularly with the way his initial credit blazes across the center of the screen at the end of the opening titles. But Terminator Salvation is more of a bad idea in search of a bad director. Many years after Terminator 2: Judgement Day was stamped into the action/sci-fi cinema Hall of Fame, we are now two films into a series that insists on franchising an idea that was probably left well enough alone. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines got by barely as a mild, but entertaining battle between man and machine. Now we have Terminator Salvation (the 4th film of the series) that picks up after the apocalyptic end of Rise and moves the franchise from the implied and into realizing the post-judgement day robot apocalypse. It is the first vision of a Terminator movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger, time travel and human/cyborg Terminators on a seamingly indestructable hunt. By removing everything unique and defining about the series, Salvation becomes just another post-apocalyptic movie.

SkyNet became self-aware. It launched nukes and reduced the planet to a desert wasteland. Remaining humans are reduced to scavangers amongst the wreckage, while John Conner (Christian Bale) leads the resistance movement with plans, researching new ways to stop the machines and rallying speeches over CB radio. When Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a criminal on death row who donated his body to science, appears on the scene he is taken in by a resourceful young survivor named Kyle Reese. Kyle’s appearance on the scene puts a wrinkle in Conner’s latest plan to bring down SkyNet once and for all.

I don’t think that Terminator 2 is untouchable or that any inferior sequel demeans the franchise, but I have been kind of amazed that with each sequel the movies seem to get smaller as the scope of the story gets bigger. Post-apocalyptic Salvation is theoretically the most epic story yet, but framed with McG’s lense the movie is darn near claustrophobic. He has the eye of a TV director keeping scenes between actors back-and-forth mid-shots – maybe later to reveal that there are 5 other people in the room or they’re actually dangling over a massive cavern. The movie opens up exactly once during a solid good action sequence involving a massive human-snatching mech and motorcycle machines. Then it narrows again when it really shouldn’t – a climactic invasion of the Skynet lab that retreads more of the same wearhouse-set Terminator action we’ve seen before.

Apart from McG’s hack approach, Salvation suffers from the inexplicable shoving to the forefront of Sam Worthingon. I’m not sure who this guy is or who he bought off to get co-top billing with Christian Bale post-Dark Knight but it’s not for an abundance of talent. Worthington is the typical generic blank-faced wooden hero, only able to emote surface level grunts and with all the screen presence of a potted plant. Marcus Wright is a completely new character to the series and with Kyle Reese and John Conner finally in the same movie, it’s odd to see the story focus so much on this guy from start to finish.

It’s also hard to talk about Salvation and not mention a key plot twist that was given away in every trailer and commercial that aired. It’s hard to imagine what my reaction would have been to the film had I not known this information about Marcus going in, but given that the character dies and then emerges from a hole in the ground that contained a lab where robots were creating more human-like Terminators it was probably a gaping plot hole left my McG unable to bring the strands together and not assumed to be a twist by the promoters. The movie also contains a surprise “cameo” of sorts that drew cheers from my sneak preview audience, but it came off more to me as a bad CGI effect.

What I did like about Salvation was the construction of various new machines in the machine run world, in addition to the old toaster terminators we have the mechs, the cycles and the snake-like swimming machines. They appear to have evolved in various different ways, some as machines, some more humanoid, some as animals and some as just all-powerful super computers. To this end, Helena Bonham Carter pretty much steals the movie in a near cameo appearance.  There is also a fun peppering in of the trademark lines of the series from unexpected places.

It’s watchable, sure, but Terminator Salvation is weighted down by deep plot holes, bad acting from Worthington, McG’s narrow vision and inability to create excitement, the sheer dreariness of the visuals and a total lack of imagination of what to do with the Terminator characters or where to take the story. Terminator 3 at least took us somewhere new. Salvation seems to have no aspirations to do anything challenging with it, as if McG and the producers are just borrowing the franchise for a bit and promised to put it back the way they found it after the pay checks cleared.