The original Terminator kicked off this universe with darkly horrific sci-fi underpinnings. T2 drove it home with engaging character interactions and development (especially in the director's cut), cutting edge effects, and an antagonist that seemed invincible until the last few moments of the film. T3 kind of took a dump on the franchise by recycling concepts and bringing little new or innovative to the series, and despite some appealing female leads (I'm looking at you, misses Danes and Loken), stuff blowing up, and capping it with the only possible ending that would satisfy, the overwhelming cheese of it (the "Talk to the hand" line comes strongly to mind) made the whole affair only tolerable to see where the larger story was going. Now Salvation is upon us, with Christian Bale filling the boots of John Connor, at the cusp of the machine militia going from all metal men to fleshy cyborg cavalry. Does it redeem the third movie? Has it reinspired faith in the franchise? Does it stand a chance of topping the caliber and appeal of T2? Kind of, sort of, and not really, in that order.
They lined up a good cast, each of whom generally fit their roles well. Of particular note was Anton Yelchin (aka, Charlie Bartlett) as teenage Kyle Reese; with the right dye job, I could see similarities to Michael Biehn's older rendition of Reese. Bale's Connor is as gruff as you'd expect, and takes the weight of the world on his shoulders more here than in any previous installment. Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright kicked ass in every situation, though he didn't really know why he was so capable until later. Michael Ironside is always good as a grizzled war veteran, though his character is about puddle-deep here, and things surrounding him go predictably awry as a single-minded automaton blindly following orders at the helm. Helena Bonham Carter — a gem in every role I've seen her partake — felt a bit wasted here, though. She only appears twice (once only virtually), and the part really didn't require someone of her talent.
Typically the whole steampunk post-apocalyptic aesthetic just doesn't do anything for me. It's all about gangs with biker garb and spiky haircuts drinking their own pee, exuding airs of macho stupidity, or gimpy children limping around killing one another, about three seconds from resorting to cannibalism. It's frenzied and chaotic, but manages to bore the hell out of me. Salvation exists in a similarly post-apocalyptic America, but with much more gravity to the trappings and less silliness. That's not to say it's changed my view on stories set in bleak, barren wastelands, but at least the pace kept up enough that I didn't have time to experience the usual nausea at the setting.