Terminator Salvation (or T4 for salivating fans) is an ultra serious, brooding, post apocalyptic action/war movie. Previous installments were never this grim or dull, even in the face of certain defeat. This makes the many explosive moments in Salvation (and there are many) almost seem like relief. They make us forget the joylessness of it all and remind us that we are supposed to have at least as much fun as we've had watching any of the previous Terminators. In that respect, this fourth film is a let down, but with many redeeming elements.
The most prominent of them is the joy of discovering the actor Sam Worthington in the role of Marcus Wright, a Terminator machine with human tissue, skin and appearance. In the opening flashback scene we learn of his past as a criminal. Later (its 2018) he wanders lost and aimless, rescued by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, remarkably reminiscent of Michael Biehn), himself searching for members of the human resistance led by John Connor (Christian Bale). Connor has a personal interest in ensuring the safety of Kyle, who will grow up to travel back in time and meet his mother (this is explored in the original James Cameron Terminator) and this is all you need to know.
The film has many thoughtful, though not very original, battles between the rag tag human crew and their more superior AI opponents. Little time is spared in exploring any back-story, for Salvation expects and appreciates that viewers are sufficiently well versed in the series mythology and timeline, and this is one of its achievements. Director McG is adept at handling both the brisk drama and the more showy explosive segments, the latter being his obvious forte. It's the script that falters, especially in the second half where it recycles the man versus machine fights from previous Terminator films. Perhaps the films biggest weakness is that in retrospect, it feels like a very small, unimportant segment of the continuing saga. There is a rogue robot that suffers a crisis of conscience (and identity), meets up with the resistance, and helps them out in a plot that has many disconnected strands. This includes learning that the human resistance commander's are laughably holed up in a submarine, a goofy 'cameo' by a CGI Arnold, and a dreary atmosphere straight out of the Mad Max/Matrix series. There is no definitive moment; even when Kyle utters the immortal lines "come with me if you want to live", it is staged for show, not effect.
In an era of movies continuing as commercial franchises, this films title becomes meaningless. In Cameron's original film and its superior, pop culture making sequel T2, Terminators were machines sent into the past to terminate. Even the third film, Jonathon Mostow's much better Rise of the Machines, honoured this concept. Whether Wright is the "Terminator" of this series is questionable – he has the traits of the machines but a human heart; this provides some (though not a lot of) moral/machine dilemma, but is essentially nonsensical and at tangents to what the series was always about. It is also somewhat ironic that the actor who brings charismatic humanity to a role is Worthington himself, playing a machine. In the way that the story evolves, I felt more empathy for him than anyone else, especially when he is ruthlessly hunted down by humans. He more than impresses when squaring off against uptight, Bale (mostly barking orders, lacking versatility), who's most entertaining lines were probably those heard online in his leaked rant onset. The machines that the resistance fight have a 'cool' factor initially, but this novelty soon wears out – they are far too simplistic, almost dumb. Is it a surprise then to anyone then that humanity triumphs in the end? - Faizan Rashid