Here's a brief synopsis of the Terminator series timeline: In the future, Skynet, a network of machines, will become self-aware and view humanity as an enemy. They will declare war on the humans and construct many different types of killing machines, called Terminators, to eradicate humanity from the Earth. One man will lead a resistance movement to fight the machines. His name is John Connor. The machines make several attempts to kill John Connor by sending Terminators back in time. The first Terminator was sent to kill his mother before he was born. It failed. A second Terminator was sent back to kill John Connor when he was 13. It failed. A third was sent back to cripple the resistance by killing Connor's deputies. It also failed. All of these attempts were thwarted by either a resistance fighter or a reprogrammed Terminator being sent back in time by the Resistance to prevent the machines from achieving their goal.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, and Moon Bloodgood
Terminator Salvation takes place in the future; 2018 to be precise. A grown John Connor (Christian Bale) has now assumed a role in the Resistance movement, although he does not yet lead it. He does, however, lead a small band of resistance fighters who are extremely dedicated to him. He learns from "Command", the last remnants of the world's military, that Skynet machinery broadcasts signals that can be used to send commands to the individual Terminators, including an order to turn themselves off, if needed.
Connor and his fighters also encounter a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) who claims to have knowledge of the whereabouts of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who will eventually become John Connor's father. (For those that don't recognize the name, Reese was the Resistance fighter who traveled back in time in the first Terminator movie, impregnated Sarah Connor, and helped defeat the Terminator that was sent to kill her.) Reese, along with many other humans, has been taken into Skynet's central manufacturing compound as a prisoner. Command has scheduled an attack on the compound that will utilize the shut-down signal to increase the chances of a victory. They have no plans to extract the human prisoners. Connor, of course, knows that if something happens to his father, the future will be altered drastically. Connor has to either go along with the plan and hope Reese survives or stop the attack and infiltrate the compound himself to extract Reese.
Lest you think I've given the whole film away, I've left out a few details and rearranged some others to allow for some surprises.
If you're a fan of the first three films in the series, be prepared for a much different type of movie when you see Terminator Salvation. This entry takes place on a much larger scale. There is very little character development other than what's been established in the previous movies, so if you haven't seen them, chances are you'll be wondering what's going on. Some may be turned off by the film's apocalyptic atmosphere as the previous entries always had a sense of hope that permeated through the gloom and doom possibilities of the future. In Terminator Salvation, that gloomy future is now and there seems to be a machine waiting around every corner ready to snuff out any possibility of hope.
The special effects are, in a word, fantastic. The CGI work is very well done and the integration with the live actors is nearly flawless. Speaking of the actors, Christian Bale delivers an intense turn as Connor, but he doesn't really have to do much acting as there's very little for him to do besides look angry and yell a lot. Sam Worthington's Marcus is probably the most interesting character in the movie, although the script does not do a lot with the conflict that provides his motivation.
Despite all the action and techno firepower that's presented on-screen, there are a few plot holes and incongruities that make things a bit maddening and keep Terminator Salvation from being as special and jaw-droppingly awesome as it could have potentially been. (For example, why do the female characters look as if they're fresh from the beauty shop but the men are all grizzled and unshaven? Why do the machines have Kyle Reese's image in their database but do nothing special with him when they have him in custody?) Director McG does a great job with the action scenes, but many scenes which could have benefitted from a more subtle touch are bludgeoned.
Hardcore fans of the series will no doubt look past these flaws and find a rollicking good time with plenty of explosions and carnage (despite the series' first PG13 rating.) Those looking for a good summer flick may also find some pleasure in Terminator Salvation's loud and raucous content. Those who are looking for the spirit and humor of the the first two entries in the series will no doubt be disappointed that this entry is only mildly more entertaining than 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Trivia: This is the first Terminator movie not to star Earl Boen. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)