Like its calculating, relentless namesake, The Terminator franchise doesn't feel pity or remorse and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. After the classic sci-fi epic's last installment (2003's Rise of the Machines) failed to generate any lasting excitement, and its star abandoned showbiz for politics, some assumed the batteries of the long-running series had finally powered down. But the only thing more unstoppable than a killer robot is the need for fresh cash, and Hollywood's insatiable need to recycle every single scrap of its past into shiny new summer product.
So this new entry barrels into the multiplex at full speed leaving a gnarly mess of twisted metal, action and smoking ruin in its wake. Sure, such carnage can be damned exciting, and Salvation offers up the sort of huge, breathless thrills summer season demands, but there's a gloomy air that makes this one feel more robotic and less humorous than any of its predecessors.
First, there's star Christian Bale, who cranks intensity to 11, then busts off the knob. As humanity-savior John Connor, Bale's intent to glare his way to victory, growling orders and threats with gravel-voiced fury, all the while attempting to burn a hole in the camera lens — even in the quieter moments. Of course, Connor has the weight of what's left of the world on his shoulders, attempting to hold together a ragtag resistance army against the genocidal computers, which have nuked the planet to near oblivion. And those nasty automatons are busily rounding up people to use as guinea pigs in a plan to create new, more lifelike cyborg (Terminator) units to finally wipe out mankind. Meanwhile, Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death-row criminal in 2003 who signs an organ donor card, gets executed yet wakes up in this shattered future, totally confused, but still full of unfocused rage. His rough edges get partially sanded off by a pair of urchins he takes under his wings, one of whom happens to be young Kyle Reese (Anton Yechlin), who, in the future, will travel to the past and father Connor, if he doesn't get aced now. Follow?
OK, twisted continuity has always been at this franchise's heart — but here, the brain benders cause headaches, especially with the mostly pointless addition of Marcus, yet another time traveler in a mythology lousy with them.
Hyper-stylist director McG sure knows how to make a pretty apocalypse, using a vividly grimy, ash-coated landscape to underscore the dire nature of the conflict, which gives the cool set pieces an existential charge. While Salvation is great at squeezing out sparks, it fails to really connect us to the people in the midst of the maelstrom. There are all sorts of references and allusions to James Cameron's classic moments, but while these evil robots make a beautifully terrible noise, the story's still little more than a tinny echo.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.