but the series is about John Connor and humanity's fight against the machines. so Arnold's role, whilst very fitting given his lack of acting skills (don't need much to act like a machine), isn't really the crux of the story.
When he did, however, you had to think "The Terminator" would bring something fresh with him -- something exciting, something inventive -- as he has in each of the three previous "Terminator" movies.
Instead, "Terminator Salvation," the fourth installment in the sci-fi action franchise that Ah-nold built -- which opens Thursday (May 21) -- only plods over previously well-trodden ground, festooning the same-old buckets of bolts with lots of noise, lots of shrapnel and just enough intensity to keep audiences from terminating their fandom.
Not only does the largely disposable "Terminator Salvation" fail to advance the franchise's overarching rise-of-the-machines storyline (a better title: "Terminator Stagnation") but, worse, it never manages to distinguish itself from any other reasonably budgeted action film.
For a franchise built on imagination, that's a mighty tumble.
It's set in the future this time. That's new. And the appealing Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight") and Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek") get to show their mettle, filling in for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is too busy governating California to star in this one.
Beyond that, though -- shrug.
Oh, there are lots of expensive action sequences as the film relates mankind's seemingly futile war against the suddenly self-aware machines of the world. There are big booms, high-speed chases, fiery crashes. A debt also is owed to the film's top-notch crafts departments -- the costumes, the visual effects and the bleak, post-apocalyptic cinematography of Shane Hurlbut (the target of Bale's now-infamous on-set freak-out) are all excellent. If New Testament allegory is your bag, there's some of that, too.
If only this tin man had a heart. Or a thoughtful script. Or dialogue that was intentionally funny.
The nuts and bolts of the story get tricky, given the intricate mythology built up over the previous movies, to say nothing of the headachey, circular logic created whenever time travel is thrown into the mix. If you don't have at least a casual knowledge of the story to this point -- well, good luck with that.
Bale plays the grown-up version of human-resistance leader John Connor, the child whose conception the robotic Schwarzenegger was sent back in time to prevent in 1984's contemporarily set first movie.
Yelchin plays the teenage version of Kyle Reese, the adult human who was sent back in time to stop Schwarzenegger from completing that task -- and who went on to father John with Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor.
In what feels like a bit of a cinematic bait-and-switch, however, little-known Aussie actor Sam Worthington gets the bulk of the screen time here, playing Marcus Wright, a prisoner whose last memory before waking up in 2018 is his own execution.
Wandering around, dazed and confused in the post-apocalyptic landscape created in the closing minutes of "Terminator 3" -- dominated by super-Terminators that have suspicious shades of 2007's "Transformers" -- he ends up befriending the young Kyle Reese. (That friendship is eased by Reese's unflinching acceptance of such questions as "What year is it?" -- just the beginning of a string of artificial, illogical behavior from the film's central characters.)
Meanwhile, the Terminator army, tired of failing at its attempts to snuff John Connor, has decided to target Kyle before he goes back in time to father John. Cue a kidnapping, cue a rescue attempt, cue a well-telegraphed discovery by Wright, cue an inspired, computer-assisted cameo from a very familiar face.
"Terminator Salvation" was directed by McG, who made a name directing music videos and commercials before graduating to "Charlie's Angels." He'll be back, too, as he has plans to helm a fifth "Terminator" movie.
At this rate, however, I'm not sure much of his audience will be.