LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Arnold Schwarzenegger was too busy running California to save the world in the new "Terminator" movie.
The action hero turned California governor starred in the first three films in the blockbuster sci-fi trilogy, but top billing in "Terminator Salvation," which opens in U.S. theaters
on Thursday, goes to "Batman" star Christian Bale.
True to his catchphrase "I'll be back," Schwarzenegger did make a brief cameo, even though he never set foot on the movie's set. Through computer-generated special effects, his fearsome visage was taken from a previous movie and superimposed on a deadly Terminator robot.
Schwarzenegger may not be beloved by voters in California, which is battling a budget crisis, but the critics miss him.
"In Arnold's absence, an important ingredient of the 'Terminator' iconography -- namely, the fun factor -- is in short supply," said the Hollywood Reporter of the new film.
Added the Los Angeles Times, "On the plus side, 'Terminator Salvation' has lots of action. But it has no soul."
The film, directed by "Charlie's Angels" filmmaker Joseph Nichol, known in Hollywood as McG, takes viewers into a world shown only through fearful glimpses in the past three movies -- planet Earth in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.
Bale and Australian actor Sam Worthington play allies in humanity's resistance against the robotic and self-aware machines that have destroyed mankind.
McG said that James Cameron, the filmmaker behind the first two "Terminator" movies, asked him in a conversation why "Terminator Salvation" was worth making.
"I said, because this explores the world after Judgment Day, and all three 'Terminator' pictures are indeed present-day pictures of Terminators coming back through time and chasing (humans)," McG told reporters recently.
In the movie set in 2018, John Connor (Bale) is a leader of human resistance fighters hunkered down against humanoid robots. In the midst of plans for a military attack on the machines, a man with a troubled past named Marcus Wright (Worthington) appears out of nowhere.
At first Connor and Wright clash, but they later team up to infiltrate the machines' headquarters, where the artificially intelligent computer Skynet reigns.
Movies where humanity's fate is at peril will become familiar territory for movie goers in the coming months.
In the film "Star Trek," which opened on May 8, a renegade alien named Nero threatens to destroy Earth, but is stopped by the famed crew of the Starship Enterprise.
The film "2012," which is scheduled to open on November 13, shows the world devastated by a cataclysmic disaster. The movie plays on popular fears of a doomsday scenario for 2012, based on ancient Mayan predictions.
Worthington also stars in the movie "Avatar" opening on December 18, which is directed by Cameron, and which the actor said shares similar themes to "Terminator Salvation."
"Hope, that's definitely a theme in 'Avatar' and this," Worthington said. "Humanity, people finding hope in desperate
times, which is good in this day and age."
Cameron's 1984 movie "The Terminator," the first film in the franchise, was a low-budget affair that last year was selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress, based in part on Schwarzenegger's star-making performance.
"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" came out in 1991 and made $519.8 million at worldwide box offices and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" followed in 2003 with $433.4 million.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dean Goodman and Cynthia Osterman