Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language. Running time: 114 minutes. Two stars out of four.
We have seen the future in "Terminator Salvation," and the future is noisy.
This fourth flick in the "Terminator” saga takes place in 2018, 14 years after Judgment Day. John Connor is a rising force in the resistance against Skynet, the artificial intelligence network that started thinking for itself and eradicating humanity. He has seen destruction and listened to the recordings left by his mother that foretell his future, but he has yet to send anyone back in time in hopes of stopping it, including the man who will become his father.
(You definitely need to have seen the first three movies to have a clue as to what's going on here. This is no time to play catch-up. Being a fan also helps.)
McG, director of the "Charlie's Angels” movies and "We Are Marshall,” drops into this well-established lore and presents a post-apocalyptic world that is repetitively bleak and relentlessly loud. Yes, the machines have taken over, so of course there's going to be a healthy amount of clanging, crunching metal and automatic weapon fire — but even things that shouldn't be noisy, like the lighting of a flare, sound like a rocket launch.
And Christian Bale steps into the role of John Connor, played previously by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl, and he … well, he does the same voice he uses when he dons the black suit for the "Batman” movies, a monotone, guttural growl regardless of the dialogue. Connor's function as Christ figure is clearer than ever in the script from John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who also wrote 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," nearly everyone who managed to stay alive describes this "JC” as a messiah and a prophet, but not everyone believes it. The metaphor adds yet another layer of portentousness — but the writers also threw in a couple of classic "Terminator” lines, ostensibly to lighten the suffocating mood. Instead, they're real groaners.
John must find and protect his future father, teenager Kyle Reese (the plucky Anton Yelchin), while also trying to determine whether to trust the mysterious stranger Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to help him with this quest. Worthington has the masculine good looks and formidable screen presence to stand strong opposite Bale — but, naturally, he also has to scream a lot. This installation sorely needs more of the kind of liveliness Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the franchise.
"Terminator Salvation” does feature some inventive camerawork, though — McG is a commercial and music video veteran, after all — and the intricate special effects we've come to expect from the series (the work of the late Stan Winston, who died before the film was finished). Several of the new villainous devices are extremely cool, including the Hydrobots, four-foot-long killer eels that attack under water.
But there's not much here in the way of way of humanity, even with the strong feminine presence of actresses including Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood and Jane Alexander. It seems the machines have already won.