Death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) donates his body to science prior to execution only to wake up seemingly none the worse for wear in the post “Judgment Day” world of the Terminator films, where humanity’s last survivors are fighting a losing war against self aware machines. Wright meets up with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) who, as those familiar with the series know, will one day grow up to be Michael Biehn in the first Terminator.
Wright and Reese set out to roam the wasteland along with the mute child Star (Jadagrace), but it isn’t long before a bunch of nasty machines show up to hassle the humans. Reese, Star, and some other survivors are captured, but Wright escapes, eventually meeting up with a group of resistance fighters including Blair (Moon Bloodgood) and series mainstay John Connor (Christian Bale). At first Connor isn’t sure if he can trust Wright, but eventually they team up to rescue Reese.
The part of John Connor was beefed up at Bale’s request, but more screen time isn’t enough in and of itself to turn a supporting part into a lead. Too many of his scenes just feel like padding, and the character is almost superfluous at times. It’s also by no means one of Bale’s better performances. Fortunately Worthington and Yelchin are engaging, and the writers seem to have actually given some thought to their characters. When they’re onscreen, you almost care about what’s happening, but not enough to make up for the film’s many shortcomings.
Chief among those shortcomings is a screenplay riddled with logic issues and general stupidity. The script also manages to telegraph every single plot development way in advance. Chances are you’ll know exactly how the movie is going to end at least 10 minutes before it does, which at least allows you to leave early without missing anything.
A good director might have still salvaged something from the post apocalyptic rubble, but sadly Terminator Salvation got saddled with McG, whose previous work includes music videos and the Charlie’s Angels movies. His approach is to assault the audience with a nonstop barrage of special effects, loud noises and confusingly shot action sequences. He has absolutely no idea how to make a scene work. Even the one sure-fire audience pleasing surprise near the end of the movie doesn’t have the impact it should because McG refuses to let a moment just breathe.
On the plus side, there are some cool looking new death machines, ranging from skeletal retro terminators to giant assault bots, and plenty of stuff blows up real good. More importantly, the parts of the movie focusing on Worthington’s character show there was the potential for Terminator Salvation to have been a decent popcorn flick. Ultimately, though, this isn’t so much a movie as it is a clanging, banging special effects demo reel. 1 ½ out of 4 stars.