Well, to start off with, I feel like this was a Terminator movie made by people who had never seen the Terminator movies (I don’t count #3). I mean, they had all the pop culture references that everybody knows (“I’ll be back”, “Come with me if you want to live”, etc.) but this whole movie just seems totally lacking in the emotions of the series, the heart.
For me, the Terminator saga has always been about issues of emotionality, what separates man from machine, what are humanity’s strengths and weaknesses? How are we our own worst enemy? And how do we overcome that to be stronger/better/wiser than we ever knew we could be?
Say what you like about James Cameron, but I feel like he does really care about developing the themes of his movies, the images, the logical through-lines that really give stories like The Terminator, which could just be a by the numbers shoot em up some real heart. I feel like Salvation pays lip service to these ideas, but they do so in such a shallow, blatant way as to render them almost meaningless.
Another thing, which other reviews of this movie have complained about, is the lack of strong female leads. Sarah Connor is one of the original kick ass women. And Blair and Kate in this movie fall very short of the high-bar she set in the first two movies. Blair simmers and flirts her way through the movie, betraying her people and potentially getting all of them killed because she has feelings for a guy she picked up in the wilderness (granted he’s Sam Worthington, but still, a little common sense here, please). And Kate, John Connor’s wife, doesn’t do much more than stand around being pregnant and look emotional as he leaves her. Oh yeah, total bad asses, the both of them.
Another problem is this movie really lacks the central driving focus of the other two. The Terminator was about saving one woman, Sarah Connor. Terminator 2 was about saving John Connor. This one is marginally about saving Kyle Reese, but only marginally. It’s about John Connor trying to gain control of the rebellion he knows he should be leading, it’s about Marcus Wright trying to figure out what happened to him and it is, occasionally, about Connor trying to find Reese. But Connor doesn’t even interact with Reese until the ending, so this movie really doesn’t emulate or mirror the first two at all.
The plot here is also really fractured along two lines with its two lead characters. Marcus Wright, played by Worthington, is on a quest to find out what happened to him that he was executed but he’s still walking around and John Connor (Bale) is trying to find Kyle Reese before Skynet does. But Marcus’ storyline is the one which features Reese most heavily. It felt like I was watching two different movies most of the time, and then they sort of awkwardly mash together at the end.
The directing on this was also pretty subpar. Maybe I’m more sensitive to this stuff because I just finished a Hitchcock film class, but the editing in the first scene with John Connor is just atrocious. I guess the director was trying to show John’s disorientation, but all it shows is sloppiness and a glaring lack of subtlety.
All that said, Sam Worthington as Marcus is awesome. He’s got a powerful presence, he’s emotive, and really easy on the eyes. He’s the center of the movie, and he totally steals every scene he’s in with Bale.
Also, if you’re just watching this as a general SF fan the movie is about average, bordering on mediocre. Certainly watchable, even re-watchable. But as a part of the superlative Terminator series this movie falls sadly flat.