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<i>Terminator: Salvation</i> Review: Welcome to the Machine

The backstory of the Terminator film franchise is filled with enough time-jumps to drown a McFly and will not be recapped here, but the quality of its installments can be summarized by each film's robot antagonist. The classic, relentless T-800 hunted Sarah Connor in the enduring original Terminator. The cold, shiny T-1000 shape-shifted through the sleek and stylish Judgment Day. And the cleavage-enhanced, mixed-bag hybrid T-X did whatever she did in the muddled mess that was Rise of the Machines. So what does it say that the primary robot foes in the newest installment, Terminator: Salvation, are shuffling, outdated T-600s that are constantly shooting at things and wear shreds of clothing and skin in a failed attempt to look human? Probably nothing good.

Granted, that's not entirely fair. There are so many, many different kinds of new Terminators in this film, but all they say is that the filmmakers have seen other robot movies. Giant, cannon-wielding robots bring to mind Michael Bay's Transformers (just ask Bay himself); the water-based hydro-terminators are like The Matrix's Sentinels by way of The Princess Bride's shrieking eels; riderless smart-bikes swarm a fleeing big rig like Tron lightcycles from Hell; and flimsy hover-drones remind me of those little guys in Batteries not Included. It's non-stop robot action, but it's action we've seen already.

In revisiting a future that they briefly showed us in 1984, Salvation runs into a problem: everyone else has already shown us that future. Especially The Matrix, whose admittedly Terminator-inspired style can be seen everywhere, from the human-harvesting robots to the whole "Chosen One" thing John Connor has going on. Speaking of which, I don't remember this being so much of a thing in the previous movies, but people take their hats off in front of John Connor like he's Keanu Reeves coming home to Zion. He's not the leader of the resistance yet, but he gets audiences with the G8 leaders of the Resistance on the basis of his name alone, and he even broadcasts regular fireside chats to the globe, giving status reports, teaching Terminator-killing techniques, and saying over and over, "You are the Resistance," which seems to be the 2018 version of "Yes We Can." He's like Barack Obama meets Batman, and his gravelly voice had me waiting for him to put on the cape.

You have to admit, that if T3 was a step down, acting-wise, from T2, then Salvation tried to kick things up a notch in that department. Thespians Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter both do their three-named best to bring Bale-level gravitas to the set, but it's experienced genre types with awesome names like Michael Ironside and Moon Bloodgood who are the most entertaining. Common is given very little to do and does it, and lucky bastard Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the new Star Trek) actually makes a great teenage Kyle Reese when he's not running around speaking in Russian. And relative newcomer Sam Worthington, as the mysterious Marcus Wright, is very soulful and pretty, and you would feel for him right away if you didn't know his secret.

But unfortunately, Marcus' secret -- which is actually revealed about halfway through the movie -- is given away in pretty much every commercial, and implied heavily in the first five minutes of the film. (If you haven't been watching the commercials for this very reason, you may want to stop reading this or any other review.) To paraphrase Vince Vaughn in Swingers, Marcus Wright is so a Terminator, and he doesn't even know it. Which maybe speaks to what the movie was trying to be -- a new kind of Terminator, one with a heart and soul. I don't think it succeeded, and I actually think it was more in need of a brain, since there are plot holes you could drive a Hunter/Killer through and a few real "WTF?" moments. But if you're looking for a loud, action-packed film that isn't too proud to wear the tattered vestiges of the previous Terminator films like a badge of honor, having its characters spout the classic lines and giving a very familiar face a cameo, then consider this review terminated.

Want more Terminator? Get the inside scoop on the creation of the film from the director, crew and actors with the Terminator Salvation: The Movie Companion book, and check out hundreds of concept drawings, storyboards and production art in The Art of Terminator Salvation book.

What'd you think of Terminator: Salvation? There is no comment but what you make below. And check out our Guide to the Apocalypse!

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