DVD Release Date:  December 1, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 21, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  115 min.
Director:  McG
Actors:  Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter, Jadagrace, Blair Williams, Common, Michael Ironside, Jane Alexander

Sequels, by their very nature, aren't original. Familiarity is what brings people back to certain stories—familiar characters, familiar settings and even familiar dialogue.

The best movie sequels expand on themes in the original story, but such thematic development often isn't required for box-office success. If we liked something the first time, maybe we'll like it a second time, or even a third time. Or, in the case of the Terminator franchise, a fourth time.

This latest Terminator film is full of action-movie clichés—acceptable by action-movie sequel standards—but it's a hollow, mechanical film that advances a story without expanding the underlying themes in any significant way.

Drawing on earlier, better films—sometimes from different genres—Terminator Salvation fails to rise above the familiar traps mentioned above. Its gritty visuals offer some diversion, but the characters, and some woeful dialogue, offer little that's fresh. Sure, fans get to hear the line, "I'll be back" again, and they get a glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the film, directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), is more disposable than its inconsequential but enjoyable predecessor (the Jonathan Mostow-directed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and nowhere close to the visionary, James Cameron-directed Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) leads the remaining humans in a fight against machines that seek to destroy them. They're succeeding. Unleashed by intelligence network Skynet, these robots, or "terminators," are nearly unstoppable.

The humans, holed up in bunkers, are united by resistance leader Connor, whose voice goes out over the radio in an effort to inspire hope among the decreasing number of human survivors.

Among those who fight for survival is Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the new Star Trek film), who holds the key to humanity's future. Connor's task is to protect Reese at all costs. When Reese and his friend Star (Jadagrace) are taken captive by the machines, he devises a plan to free them, rather than following the orders of his superior, General Ashdown (Michael Ironside), who seeks to obliterate the machines regardless of the cost in human lives.

Complicating Connor's efforts is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death-row prisoner who, as the film opens in 2003, donates his body to science and ends up, years later, claiming to be Connor's ally. (He reappears in the year 2018 and arrives howling, covered in mud—a scene very similar to the prison break in the classic Coen brothers' comedy, Raising Arizona—a worrisome point of comparison for a film as devoid of humor as Terminator Salvation.) Connor suspects Wright is his enemy, but the two will need to work together to exploit the humans' discovery of a secret programming code that could defeat the machines. Moon Bloodgood and Bryce Dallas Howard join the men in their fight but are given little to do. Better is Helena Bonham Carter as a cancer victim and passionate advocate—perhaps too passionate—of scientific advancement.