Directed by McG
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood and Anton Yelchin
Goes well with: Terminator 3, The Matrix Revolutions, Revenge of the Sith
It's almost impossible to separate the Terminator franchise from Sacramento these days. But Arnold's presence in the films isn't the reason people love them. If it were, we'd still be talking about, oh, Jingle All the Way or, say, Red Sonja. No, the movies survive as pop-culture touchstones because they're actually (mostly) good, decently conceived and stuffed with superb action scenes. Some people (me included) consider the 1984 original to be one of the last great action movies, a film in which no one was safe because the villain was so dangerous, so brutal, so single-minded in his mission that we eventually just gave in and put him in charge.
Others are huge fans of Terminator 2. They love the groundbreaking special effects and the trippy timeline paradoxes that accompany each of the first two films. Both were written and directed by James Cameron, who had almost nothing to do with T3, the movie no one gives a shit about and which seemed to signal the whimpering end to a series of films that was all metal teeth before metal teeth were cool.
The end until now, that is. Twenty-five years after James Cameron turned Arnold into a killing machine, the machines are once again rearing their ugly heads. Terminator Salvation is the first of a new trilogy and stars Mr. Intense himself, Christian Bale.
To recap, and for the uninitiated: In the original, a Terminator (Schwarzenegger), a cyborg killing machine, is sent back in time to mid-1980s L.A. to terminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and anyone else who shares that name. Why? In the future, the machines take over the world (note to young'uns: The Terminator came out way before The Matrix), and Connor's future son, John, becomes the leader of the human resistance.
Fans of the franchise know John Connor as a towering, almost mythical figure responsible for the survival of our species. No, he's nothing like the dippy douchebag he's been portrayed as in both Terminator 2 (Edward Furlong) and T3 (Nick Stahl). But Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018, on the scorched earth of the future, after judgment day. Connor has grown from an irritating delinquent into a bona-fide leader. So it stands to reason that the guy playing him is the most intense actor out there, Christian Bale. But maybe it's because Connor has been so built up that he's so, well, uninteresting. Bale is in full-on Batman mode—gruff and growly all the time. It's generally assumed that if you accompany him on any kind of a mission and you aren't his right-hand man Barnes (played by the rapper Common), you're a goner.
But if Connor's underwhelming, the other two male leads are actually kind of cool. One is a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the most interesting character the original franchise produced. He's barely out of his teens, desperately trying to survive amid the harsh and ruined environs of L.A. The other is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convicted murderer, executed in 2003, who shows up right when the machines target both Reese and Connor. Unlike the first three films, this one features a killer from the past in the future, and it's his struggle to sort out who or what he is that, oddly, gives the movie some humanity.
Yes, Terminator Salvation has some seriously mind-blowing action sequences, cool enough to almost make you overlook some of the larger lapses in the timeline and intense enough to satisfy hardcore fans. It also has the best use of a Guns N' Roses song in years and feels like it was made by people who were real fans of the original.
That said, it's oddly paced and often underwhelming. Plus, what made T1 and T2 work was that they hinted at a future that was so horrible we couldn't even imagine it. Now that future is here—and sadly for us—only the robots have jet packs.