In April 2009, Fox would air the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. However, fans would only have to wait a month before getting a new theatrical film. Terminator Salvation would ignore the new timelines established by the TV series and follow the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, more or less. Unlike the first three films and the TV series, this fourth film would be entirely set in the future and, for the first time, mankind’s war with the machines would be the main storyline.
Terminator Salvation is set in the year 2018. However, the opening moments are set in 2003, just a year prior to Skynet initiating Judgment Day. Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Parts One and Two) from Cyberdyne is in a prison convincing a convict named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Clash of the Titans, Avatar) to sign over his body for scientific research. We then flash forward to 2018 and Earth is now in apocalyptic ruin. John Connor (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) leads a resistance group along with his pregnant wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World). John’s team is sent on a mission only to find human prisoners and schematics for a new type of Terminator that has living tissue. When the base is attacked, John is the sole survivor and he heads towards Resistance Headquarters. They have intercepted a kill list that includes John’s name and that of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek). Nobody knows of Kyle yet but John knows that he will someday become his father in the past.
While the Resistance moves forward with a plan to attack Skynet, Marcus Wright awakens in this strange new world, eventually befriending Kyle. Through a series of events, Marcus discovers he is now part cyborg yet he thinks of himself as still human. After initially being thought a threat to John before saving his life, Marcus and John find themselves working together to reach Skynet to help rescue a now captured Kyle and the other human prisoners.
Terminator Salvation was clearly designed to be the start of a new direction for the franchise. The very open ending, with John stating that the battle had been won but the war was far from over, seemed to promise more adventures that never came. With a proven director in McG (Charlies Angels, We Are Marshall) and a solid cast, not to mention a successful franchise and the music genius of Danny Elfman, Terminator Salvation seemed to be destined for success. Unfortunately, it would become the least successful of the franchise to date.
Arnold Schwarzenegger would not return for this film despite the brief appearance of the T-800 Terminator. With CGI technology incorporating his younger face onto the body of Roland Kickinger, who had previously played Arnold Schwarzenegger in See Arnold Run (2005), Arnold is still essentially here, at least in spirit. While he initially praised the film, he later admitted it was very disappointing. The same thoughts were expressed by James Cameron as well as Linda Hamilton, who briefly reprised her role as the voice of Sarah Connor.
Terminator Salvation suffers from being heavy on the action and light on the plot and character development. It doesn’t have much to offer and hasn’t improved with age. It is noteworthy for being the final film for the legendary Stan Winston, who would pass away prior to the film’s release and received a special recognition onscreen. Beyond that, Terminator Salvation is ultimately disappointing.
A prequel animated series entitled Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series consisted of six episodes centered on resistance fighter Blair Williams (voiced by Moon Bloodgood, reprising her role from the movie). It was mildly entertaining back in 2009 but has become mostly irrelevant due to outdated video graphics. What was once fun for a one-time viewing and an interesting tie-in to the movie, like Terminator Salvation, it has become mostly forgettable.
Next time, we flash forward to the present as the franchise is reborn with Terminator Genisys (2015).