Terminator Salvation (2009)
In order to enjoy Terminator Salvation, you need to approach it as if it were pornography. Ignore all the people talking, the story, the characters, the dialogue, focus in on the big set pieces, and enjoy the explosions. Nothing but the action in Terminator Salvation matters, which is good because the film makes absolutely no sense, even by the already low standards established by the three previous logic-challenged Terminators.
For instance, a young man by the name of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) factors heavily into the plot. The machines, you see, have put out a new Terminator's Most Wanted list, and his name is right at the top. Why? Because in the first Terminator (directed by James Cameron), Reese (played then as an older man by Michael Biehn) travels back in time to destroy the T-800 trying to kill Sarah Connor and inadvertently fathers humanity's eventual leader John Connor (Christian Bale) in the process. If the machines can kill Reese before he goes back in time, they can ensure Connor was never born and wipe out their biggest enemy. Which begs the question: how do they know Kyle Reese is the guy from the future who becomes Connor's father? My guess: these machines are cutting-edge. They have the Terminator Blu-Ray and they took notes.
The story spirals downward from there. Connor actually shares the spotlight with a new character, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), who we see put to death by lethal injection over the opening credits yet find miraculously alive after the machines have beaten the holy hell out of civilization. Slowly he comes to learn what anyone who has seen the Terminator Salvation trailer knows before they walk in the door: Wright's second life comes at a terrible, mechanical cost. He provides the narrative connection between Reese and Connor as well as the closest thing Salvation has to any thematic resonance with Terminator 2 and its examination of the unquantifiable things that separate a human and a robot. Worthington is Australian, and to hide his accent he speaks in the same gravelly whisper as Bale, which makes the pair's dramatic confrontation unintentionally hilarious. Bale keeps leaning closer and closer as he speaks to Worthington, until the two are inches apart, whispering at each other (see the picture above). Y'know if either of these guys could speak at normal volume, they wouldn't have to stand so close together to hear what they're saying.
Terminator Salvation's plot is like a house of cards built on a pit of quicksand. Really the last thing you want to do when you're sitting watching this movie is ask questions, because that could ruin the entire experience for you. It's best not to consider why, for example, if the machines have yet to invent time travel (Salvation takes place in the year 2018, some time before Connor becomes the outright leader of the Resistance and before the off-camera events that prompt the first three Terminators) they don't simply travel back in time from the point they have invented it and provide themselves with the necessary technology or information needed to create it ahead of schedule. Or why they don't just send Terminator after Terminator to kill Sarah Connor back in 1984, or John Connor back in his Edward Furlong days. In the very first Terminator, Kyle Reese claimed that the Resistance destroyed the time portal after he and the first T-800 went through to ensure that no one else would follow. Of course, if the Resistance destroyed the time machine after Reese went through it, how could Reese know that they actually did it? Maybe they didn't after all because seven years later we got the temporal shenanigans of the Cameron-helmed Terminator 2: Judgment Day and twelve years after that, Jonathan Mostow's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, each with their own pair of time travelers. By 2009's Terminator Salvation I guess anything goes (again, like porn).
I'm giving the movie a hard time, but I do want to give credit to director McG for putting together at least three truly outstanding action sequences, including a horrifying helicopter crash done in Children of Men-style long takes, a grisly gas station siege that culminates in a crackerjack motorcycle and truck chase, and finally a full-on battle royal between Connor and a familiar looking Terminator. Kudos also to cinematographer Shane Hurlbut and the various FX teams for creating as seemless and convincing a blend of old-school practical effects and modern digital ones as I've seen in a film. Plus the widely spoiled CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo is surprisingly convincing; infinitely superior to the similar gag in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and so good that a colleague of mine assumed he was watching Schwarzenegger beneath a heavy amount of makeup when he first saw it. It's an honest mistake; the guy did say he'd be back.
When Salvation goes into action mode, it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside this summer's best blockbuster, Star Trek. Like Star Trek, Terminator Salvation's villains' time traveling plans don't make a whole lot of sense, but at least J.J. Abrams' film had a clearly defined enemy, something it shares with all the previous Terminators and their big, imposing singular bad guys. In Terminator Salvation John Connor and the rest of his intrepid crew are up against an endless parade of indistinct machines with no personality and no goals beyond their ongoing attempts to eliminate every bit of organic matter on the planet. If the machines were to kill Reese, kill Connor, kill all of what's left of civilization, what would they do next? Scaring the hell out of the vestiges of humanity is all they seem to know how to do. My guess is if they ever succeeded in wiping out mankind they'd immediately travel back in time and stop themselves from killing us all, just so they could do it all over again.