About Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which I was one of the few to love enough to put it on my year-end Top Ten in 2003, I wrote that “even though the stakes are impossibly high, there’s still place for humor here. No one takes himself too seriously, certainly not Arnold, who’s more than willing to poke fun at himself and at his character.”
That, right there, is one of the main reasons why “Terminator Salvation” is not as great as the pre-Judgment Day trilogy. I’m as big a fan of Christian Bale as the next guy, but it grows tiresome how his John Connor spends the whole movie being angry as fuck. It’s an intense performance, I guess, but it’s one-note intensity. Similarly, while the post-apocalyptic environment and the action sequences put together by director McG are effective, they lack a sense of fun. This is coming from a diehard Schwarzenegger groupie, but still, I feel that his presence is sorely missed here (no, his virtual cameo, while welcomed, doesn’t count). Which is not to say that the film is entirely dismissible. Once you accept that it won’t be on the level of the previous flicks, it works well enough as a sci-fi/action B-movie.
Set in 2018, the story mostly revolves around prophetic resistance leader Connor trying to save an imprisoned Kyle Reese (the ever likable Anton Yelchin) from Skynet’s San Francisco headquarters before his Stupid Chief (Michael Ironside in a role he could play in his sleep) nukes the place and everyone in it. Oddly, we don’t really feel any urgency, maybe because the narrative keeps shifting to Marcus Wright, a death-row convict whose heart, brain and face have been integrated into a new kind of Terminator that’s more human than anything we’ve seen before – well, in this series anyway: he’s basically RoboCop. Like I said, the fact that the movie seems unsure of who’s its protagonist is a problem. Then again, even though he’s the one playing a robot, Sam Worthington is a lot more soulful and nuanced as Wright than Bale is as Connor.
The cast also includes Moon Bloodgood, Common and Bryce Dallas Howard, none of whom makes much of an impression (though I could look at Bryce’s pretty face for hours!). And then, of course, there are a whole lot of big robots, showcasing special effects that are impressive, sure, but they’re hardly as groundbreaking as the “Terminator 2” FX were back in the day. Because let’s face it, McG might have skills, but he’s got nothing on a true visionary like James Cameron. All the “Charlie’s Angels” director can do is replicate the best bits from Cameron’s films, while also borrowing a few tricks from the “Matrix” trilogy, “Transformers” and even “Children of Men”. Again, the result is not ineffective, but it’s not particularly memorable either.