I cannot surmise whether “Terminator Salvation” will bring new fans to the monstrous, decades-old franchise that has spawned four films, a television series and a California governor.
One thing I can say is that Christian Bale can forget about his infamous, f-bomb dropping, on-set rant (naturally leaked onto the Internet) from overshadowing his performance; a fellow actor upstages him instead.
The James Cameron (“Titanic”) “Terminator” films chronicle the war between humans and the evil Cyberdyne Corporation, which creates machines capable of self-actualization. Once online, the machines decide to nuke the earth and exterminate all of mankind, the one force capable of defeating them. In the original film, the machines send a cyborg from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton); the mother of would-be resistance leader John Connor. In response, John Connor sends future soldier Kyle Reese back to protect his mother. The two fall in love and Kyle retroactively ends up becoming John’s father. The two sequels are similar except John becomes the target and they replace a human protector with reprogrammed cyborgs.
Judgment Day, as the future survivors call it, still occurs, and humans are forced underground in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and turned into warriors. For fans of the franchise, “Terminator Salvation” is a revelation: This future is visualized for longer than a glimpse, and we finally get to see a grown-up John Connor taking charge. Sorry, Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl, but when it comes to action heroes, Christian Bale (as the Caped Crusader in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”) is near the top of the list.
James Cameron, having ceded the franchise to others after the second (and probably the best) film, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” may have winced when he heard that “Charlie’s Angels” director McG (full name) would be at the helm. Though McG forgoes believable dialogue and relies on catchphrases from past films, McG shines during intense action sequences that employ jaw-dropping CGI, the best of which occurs at a run-down gas station when a very large terminator decides to blow up some passersby.
While McG “borrows” heavily from the Michael Bay “Transformers” film, and is “inspired” by Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” sound effects, the sequence is a marvel.
Aside from finally setting the film in the future, the screenwriters’ saving grace is the added element of Marcus Wright (spoiler alert for those who have not seen the trailer), a human/cyborg hybrid and by far both the most interesting character and aspect of the film. Australian actor Sam Worthington, an acclaimed stage actor, makes “Terminator Salvation” his own as a confused death-row convict whose decision to sell his body to science backfires — he wakes up in 2018, in a decimated Los Angeles, not knowing what has been done to him.
Mr. Worthington’s presence, and possibly his presence alone, allows the film to rise above the average, yet expensive, superfluity, particularly in his character’s befriending of teen survivalist Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin of “Star Trek”), his near-romance with a dangerous bombshell (Moon Bloodgood) and his confrontations with both man and machine.
This secondary story is frequently more interesting than the military planning and strategic bickering between a supposed ragtag group that somehow runs a nuclear sub and an air force base.
“Terminator Salvation” would have benefitted from an actual cameo by Arnie, instead of the superimposed face and/or body we get toward the end, but Bale, Worthington and exhilarating special effects elevate this far above standard action fare.