2009 sequel Terminator Salvation is the only movie in the franchise that doesn’t feature time travel, unless you count travelling back to the year Sam Worthington appeared in some films.
Set in 2018 (which does explain why everything currently feels post-apocalyptic), the movie vaguely concerns Kyle Reese’s (Anton Yelchin) attempts to evade capture by the machines, while John Connor (Christian Bale) attacks the Skynet headquarters. Worthington is only there to join these disparate storylines together, but for some reason he’s the protagonist, making this another Looper-style case of not knowing who we’re meant to be rooting for.
Even if you haven’t seen Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, the words “directed by McG” won’t exactly fill you with confidence. He spends the film in a permanent state of explosion-fixation, rushing through screen-based exposition to reach the next bout of mechanical robot action. Combined with the lack of time travel, the result is more Transformers than Terminator, comprising inordinately large robots on sets that look and sound like a festival rave gone wrong.
This is a generic war picture with Terminator branding, baring little resemblance to the future depicted in the previous instalments. The image is so grey it looks like they planned to do a monochrome version but accidentally released it first. Tonally the series has lurched from excessive comedy in Terminator 3 to stifling seriousness here, and the absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger might be forgotten were it not for his brief appearance in bad CGI form.
The cast also includes Common (who shows up in bad action movies about as often as his name suggests), serial franchise rebooters Helena Bonham Carter and Bryce Dallas Howard, and someone called Moon Bloodgood. The film does have some impressive action and deserves praise for attempting a genuine sequel instead of a retconned reboot, but squanders this potential by failing to advance the series’ plot by virtue of nothing happening for two hours.
A decade later and Terminator Salvation is most remembered for Bale’s viral on-set rant, which is both more famous and entertaining than the film it’s from. That he blamed his violent outburst on being immersed in playing John Connor tells you a lot about the movie’s understanding of the Terminator characters.