Had low expectations; still left disappointed. Charmless, artless, and often boring. Stop making films, McG. Please.
The phrase "directed by McG" is not exactly one that inspires confidence. After all, directing is quite a complicated task, and the dude doesn't even have a proper name. Would you consent to let a Dr. McG operate on something critical? In fact, would you trust someone called McG enough to open a tin of beans? At any rate, news that he had been chosen for $deity knows what reason to call the shots on this latest franchise rejuvenation was met with stark disbelief round this neck of the woods, and then studiously ignored until the mudslinging following Christian Bale's ranting brought it all back into horrible focus. Now it's here, and we all have to deal with that terrible reality.
On the surface, there's quite a lot going for Terminator Salvation. It's set post Judgement Day, meaning we're slap bang in the middle of the human vs. machine war that's only been glimpsed during the previous three outings. The role of John Conner is taken over by the aforementioned Bale, who disappoints extraordinarily rarely. It really ought to have more than enough mythology to play with, as it chronicles the rise of Conner from resistance fighter to resistance leader as he attempts to stop Skynet killing both him and the teenage Kyle Reese (Anton "Chekov-redux" Yelchin), who as you may remember is Conner's father in the futurepast. Or something.
This time round the now familiar gimmick of being helped by a tame human friendly Terminator is revisited, with Cyberdyne systems having harvested executed prisoner Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington)'s DNA for use in their devious plan, creating an advanced human/machine hybrid that's utterly convinced it's human. Hell, it even gets its own romance sub-plot with resistance fighter Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) as he seeks some sort of redemption for whatever it is he did that required redeeming.
Now, let's get the good things out of the way, just so we can make clear that it's not all excruciatingly terrible. Young Yelchin does a pretty good job of playing a Kyle Reese that could believably turn into the Michael Biehn incarnation on Reese as seen in the 1984 vintage Terminator, and is a far more likeable and sympathetic teen than Conner himself was in T2. There's a few interesting visual designs, and I'm thinking mainly, and probably entirely about the T-600's stomping about with their Gatling guns and weird, vaguely mutant design. Danny Elfman's score isn't particularly remarkable, but he has had the good sense to reincorporate the iconic theme that was so conspicuously absent in Termy 3. It's nice to see Michael Ironside back on the big screen.
Everything else, however, is excruciatingly terrible.
For a film dealing with the main machine / human war that's been so long awaited, and for a film with this weight of mythos and backstory behind it, managing to build something quite so dull from the elements already suggested by previous films is a remarkable achievement. Of sorts. To make something quite so artless and charmless, even by the often low standards of big budget action outings, is a remarkable achievement. Of sorts. To bring mainstream audiences up to the same levels of disgust with the franchise that most of the die-hard Terminator fans seem to hold T3 in is a remarkable achievement. Of sorts.
Now, I'm normally fairly easily pleased. Certainly one of the things that would very easily please me is to have massive stompy robots ruining people's shit, but there's no vision or ingenuity shown in Termy Salvy's shit-ruining. One of its biggest, most shit-ruining-heavy setpieces has been stolen wholesale from War of the Worlds, and the not particularly climatic final battle of the film borrows so liberally yet haphazardly from the actually climatic final battles of the previous three films that it looks like the tribute band version of the franchise rather than the franchise itself.
There's an absolute dearth of ideas here. This should be about guerrilla warfare, instead it's trying so hard to shoehorn in the chase film structure of the previous outings that it feels deeply confused, conflicted and entirely disengaging. This ought to be about, if not Conner ultimately vanquishing the machines that have been hunting him since before he was born, at least stepping out of their shadow to become a respected leader of humanity. Instead, he's still reliant on another tame robot to save his bacon.
In fact, for a character I'd sort of assumed was the reason for continuing to bother making Terminator films, Johnny Conner is almost entirely irrelevant to the thrust of the story. He could be written out entirely without changing any important or interesting aspect of the film, well, assuming for a moment the presence of any important or interesting aspect of the film. As such, it's failing to build upon any of the elements of the Terminator universe, and therefore is completely redundant as a member of the series.
Which wouldn't be a massive problem, in the grand scheme of things. Wolverine suffered from a similar affliction, but it was at least a reasonably entertaining tentpole actioner. This isn't. Bale looks bored and has little of note to do, the story is a paper thin excuse for flat, uninspired action scenes and overall there's a distinct feeling of someone wringing out the last few dollars left in the IP rather than any attempt at making a worthwhile, standalone film.
A lot of the hardcore fanbase will already have stormed off in a huff over perceived mishandling in Terminator 3, a position I do not share, but now understand somewhat. They felt about that the way I, and I suspect more of the audience than McG would like, do about Terminator Salvation. It is a horrible, disjoined, often boring mess of a film, and you ought to avoid it.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.
Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright)
Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams)
Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Serena Kogan)
Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Kate Connor)