I've always enjoyed the Terminator franchise, which includes a trilogy of movies and one cancelled TV series. To sum up the premise, it's basically about a bleak future in which all computers and machines are controlled by a sentient artificial intelligence called Skynet, whose objective is the total extermination of mankind.
However, pockets of human resistance fighters exist to constantly plague Skynet, and to this end, it sent a robotic assassin called a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, mother of resistance leader John Connor. The movies and TV series follow Sarah and John's attempts to fend off these time-traveling menaces, and lots of wanton destruction and violence ensue.
Terminator Salvation is the 4th movie in the franchise, this time taking place in 2018, right in the middle of the fight between the humans and Skynet. We find an older John Connor (played by Christian Bale) leading his team on raids, encouraging others to fight via radio broadcasts, and listening to tapes made by his late mother Sarah for insight.
Complications arise when he realizes that Skynet has been taking human prisoners for something more sinister, and his worst fears are realized when he meets Marcus Wright, a mysterious man who seems more machine than human. An uneasy alliance with Marcus eventually sends them both to the San Francisco base of Skynet, where they must locate and rescue a young Kyle Reese, who's actually John's father (okay, I've said it before: time travel plots always make my head hurt, so I'm not even gonna try and analyze).
The movie is loaded with typical summer movie fare--tons of explosions, plus the requisite nonstop random deaths and massive destruction everywhere. The effects are topnotch, and the booming surround sound is even better than Star Trek's--you practically feel like you're actually meters away from all that mayhem happening on the screen.
However, for all its gritty eyecandy, something is clearly wrong with this new film; everything seems bleak and desolate, and I'm not just talking about the muted, diffused color palette used. It's like the movie is soulless and totally devoid of humor; the trilogy and even the TV series had some brief, lighthearted moments (courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger's deadpan one-liners), but this one doesn't have any--everyone is grumpy, paranoid and always on edge.
What works in Terminator Salvation is its connection to the earlier trilogy of movies, from Linda Hamilton's photo and tape recordings from the first movie, to the origin of Arnold's T-800 series model. At least they got that right, making this new movie a vital part of established continuity. Overall, it's still a good popcorn flick, even though it lacks some kind of spark.