Review in a Hurry: Much to nobody's shock, director McG's new addition to the killer-robot franchise isn't as good as the first three. To the surprise of many, however, it's still pretty kickass—no new classic, but it's big and loud and mostly fun. Also, Christian Bale yells a lot.
The Bigger Picture: If you have somehow avoided seeing any trailers or clips from Terminator Salvation, do yourself a favor and try to avoid reading anything about it. Don't even look at the action figures in the toy store. Seriously. The movie's marketing has gone out of its way to blatantly spoil a major mid-movie revelation that would be a lot more effective if you didn't see it coming.
Still here? Well then, by now you probably know that the major character in the movie is not longtime termination target John Connor (Christian Bale), but Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), first shown as a death-row inmate in 2003. Before dying, he signs over the rights to his bodily organs to Helena Bonham Carter who, playing a cancer-stricken scientist, looks not unlike one of those killer endoskeletons herself.
Marcus awakens suddenly in the nuclear-scorched future, with the ability to fix just about any machine even after electro-magnetic pulse damage (the movie totally ignores the whole concept of EMP—fixing a car's engine postnuke will not magically repair the busted stereo, McG!). He makes his way on foot to the remains of Los Angeles, where he hooks up with Connor's dad-to-be, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, aka Star Trek's Chekov, who appears to have a real affinity for sequel/prequel/reboot-type movies this summer).
But then Reese gets captured by the robotic forces of Skynet for unspecified experiments (the scenes of human beings herded into giant factory farms could almost double as the most expensive PETA commercial ever made), and Marcus seeks out the resistance for help.
Except Connor can't trust him, because by that time the aforementioned spoilerish reveal has happened—Marcus may have the memories of a man, but in fact he's a Terminator, of the cyborg human-hybrid variety that's new to these characters but familiar to John and anyone who watched the previous movies (this may explain Worthington's robotic acting). Is he human enough to overcome his design, or an infiltrator designed to get close to the resistance leader? This question leads to a whole lot of Tin Man/Pinocchio nonsense that McG ultimately overplays with a bafflingly lame ending that even the nongeek viewer will probably find far-fetched.
Killer time-traveling robots are fine, but this? Over the top, in a bad way.
Before that, however, things are over-the-top in a good way. All manner of new robots blow stuff up real good, and the action scenes work well on a large and small scale (some utilize close-ups particularly nicely).
The 180—a Second Opinion: Numerous shout-outs to the prior films are designed to make audiences cheer, so it's too bad the very end will make a lot of them jeer. Like in, say, Mission Impossible III, the lackluster note on which the film ends may unfairly erase the considerable goodwill that earlier action sequences engender.
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