Terminator Salvation, now the fourth film in the series, is the first to take place after the mythical "Judgment Day", when evil computer network Skynet becomes self-aware and launches a nuclear attack on humanity. This brings about a years-long war between the human resistance and the machines, with the nigh-unstoppable Terminators serving as the latter's weapon of choice.
We finally get to see the prophesied resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale this time) all grown up and taking charge, and because of its post-apocalyptic setting, the film is starkly different in style from its predecessors. So instead of the nightmarish thrill we get from a killer robot hunting down ordinary people in present-day Los Angeles, we get a futuristic war movie. No time travel, no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and no time for reflection.
McG – oh, how I loathe to write and say Joseph McGinty Nichol's ridiculous pseudonym – works hard to deliver wall-to-wall action, but he does so at the expense of the humor, suspense, and tight focus of the earlier films. Instead of Arnold's amusing deadpan delivery, we get lots of shouting from Bale and costar Sam Worthington, who plays a mysterious murderer put to death in 2003 and reviving in 2018 as, shall we say, a changed man. There are also many, many explosions.
The results are exhausting – even bludgeoning.
I'm not saying that Terminator Salvation is a terrible film, nor that its forebears are flawless. Having recently rewatched all the earlier installments, these are my most up-to-date impressions about them: The first Terminator feels rather dated, mostly due to Brad Fiedel's five dollar score. Other than his iconic dunnunt-dunt-dunt-dunt theme, it's cheapo synthesizer cheese. But the film is so celebrated because nobody in 1984 expected anything from James Cameron or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the film is startlingly exciting. T2 holds up, despite Cameron's stilted dialogue, mostly because the director made shrewd use of brand-new CG techniques before they became cliches, and his unique and terrifying T-1000 villain is still awesome. T3 is serviceable, but offers nothing new except for a female Terminator.
By now, with the T-101 now serving as governor of California, and the rest of us living in a time well after Judgment Day supposedly occurred, it's hard to get jazzed about a new Terminator film. There's no magic anymore. No surprises. It's just a franchise where you expect to see lots of things get destroyed. And whereas Terminator Salvation has a decent storyline (though not without its plot holes), generally good performances, and numerous homages to the earlier films – especially the 1984 one – my general reaction was, Who cares?