What is there to be said about McG’s Terminator Salvation? That it proves that it is possible to make a worse movie than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)? At least Terminator 3 was mildly amusing, and while amusement wasn’t the point, it made the proceedings far more entertaining than this essay in cinematic drabness. Yes, Terminator Salvation is one of those post-apocalyptic concoctions where the whole world looks like a rave that went wrong while taking place in a disused foundry. The color scheme is muddy gray-brown to a point where you wonder why everyone isn’t so eaten up with malaise that they don’t just sit down and forget about the whole thing.
This is the movie where Christian Bale was so deeply immersed in his character that he went bananas on a member of the crew. Why? Had he gone after his agent or McG, I could understand that. Then again, I suspect Bale—doing his patented Clint Eastwood/Batman impression—has as much to answer for as anyone in this case. I’m not saying that he has accomplished nothing with his portrayal of John Connor. He’s just as believable as a robot as Schwarzenegger ever was—oh, wait, Connor’s one of the human characters. Well, it’s an accomplishment of some kind.
The story this time around has Connor and a small army trying to defeat the evil forces of Skynet that are still out to obliterate humankind for reasons that are only as clear as the explanatory title, which is simply to say the machines perceive humankind as a threat. This guarantees a lot of shooting and explosions—not to mention oodles of CGI effects. There’s also a new terminator: a half-human model made from executed murderer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Clever writing teams Marcus up with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who, presumably, needs to go back in time in order to father John Connor. (There are Web sites devoted to making this make sense. Have at them.)
It’s all very silly and mildly tedious. Guest “stars” like Michael Ironside and an embarrassed-looking Jane Alexander (this is her reward for heading up the National Endowment for the Arts?) wander into the film. We get the much-promised “guest appearance” from a digitized naked Arnold, whose nether regions are kept obscure either from the desire to make a PG-13 Terminator movie, or out of deference to the idea that the depiction of the gubernatorial willy might be bad form. Skynet proves to be a grubby ironworks that photogenically belches fire, and it all ends with a laugh-out-loud contrivance that suggests the writers’ notions of medical science began and ended with Frankenstein. Your call as to whether or not this is essential viewing. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.