(Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Jadagrace Berry, Michael Ironside, Linda Hamilton (voice), Arnold Schwarzenegger. Directed by McG.
The thing about the future is that it is largely unwritten. It is in many ways the undiscovered country that we all travel to together (sounds catchy, no?). Some of our biggest mistakes are made when we think we know what it holds.
John Connor (Bale) has every reason to believe he knows what’s going to happen. His mother Sarah was visited by a soldier from the future whose mission was to protect her from killer robots, called Terminators, from the same future who wish to kill her before she can give birth to a son, who will lead the human resistance to eventual victory in a war against Skynet, the sentient machine that murdered most of the human race in a nuclear horror known as Judgement Day.
Now, it is 2018 and the war is not quite going according to plan. Connor has a large following who believe he is a cross between the Messiah and a kicker of mechanical ass. He also has many who believe him to be delusional, such as the de facto resistance leader General Ashdown (Ironside) who leads the fight from a submarine.
Connor leads his team on a fairly routine mission to take out a Skynet research facility. He is supposed to retrieve a case that has a chip in it – or some such thing – and return it to the Resistance. However, in an unexpected twist you can see coming a mile off, a nuclear device detonates inside the facility, wiping out all of Connor’s crew, or most of them – some of them are back at camp. I think. Anyway, only one person gets out alive besides Connor (although he doesn’t know it at the time) – Marcus Wright (Worthington), a convicted murderer whose last memory was of his death by lethal injection. Now he’s awake and puzzled. He’s not the only one.
While Connor heads to the sub to yell at his superior officers about what was worth risking the lives of his men, Marcus walks towards Los Angeles across desolate roads covered with sand and dead cars. When he gets to L.A. he meets a Terminator who doesn’t take kindly to Marcus. Fortunately, Marcus meets the L.A. chapter of the resistance – a teenaged Kyle Reese (Yelchin), who is the soldier who will someday be sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (are you getting all this?) and, not coincidently, become the father of John (the pain is getting worse) and a silent young girl (Berry) named Star whose sole reason for being in this movie is to be silent.
It turns out that the thing the Resistance needed from the research facility was a signal code that when broadcast turns the machines off. This could come in handy when trying to win the war. It also turns out that Skynet is collecting humans for some as-yet-undetermined purpose, and it captures Reese and Star, although Marcus gets away. He runs into fighter pilot Blair (Bloodgood) whose life he saves at least once.
Finally, it turns out that Marcus is a cyborg himself, whose purpose is as yet undetermined. It also turns out that General Ashdown wants to use the signal to turn off Skynet long enough to bomb the area into the stone age, which Connor objects to because he doesn’t want Daddy deep-fried before he can sow his wild oats in the past. What’s a Messiah to do?
As it turns out, yell quite a lot. Or talk in a strained whisper, as if channeling Clint Eastwood. If you had told me that the most one-dimensional portrayal of John Connor in the franchise would be delivered by Christian Bale, I wouldn’t have believed you but here it is. The mechanical terminators display more range than Bale here, which is surprising because he’s demonstrated that he is a terrific actor in other roles.
Of course, he doesn’t really have much time to display much of anything between action sequences. Director McG and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris try not to dwell too much on story, instead relying on one action sequence after another. Granted, some of these action sequences are eye-popping, but by the end of the film they get a little bit overwhelming. I would have liked to have seen more balance between plot and action.
Sam Worthington does a reasonably good job as Marcus, which is a good thing although he is sometimes indistinguishable from Bale. Worthington, a veteran of Australian TV, has a high-profile lead coming this holiday season in James Cameron’s ambitious epic Avatar so judging from his work here, we can expect Mr. Worthington to be a big star. This is a good role for him to catapult into the limelight. There’s a pretty decent cast here otherwise, but quite frankly they don’t have a whole lot to do except to dodge explosions, yell a lot and look worried about the whereabouts of John Connor.
I’d be the last person to complain about too much action normally. I love great action sequences, cool special effects and big honking explosions. I also love the Terminator franchise, although I have to admit the last movie was less awe-inspiring than the first two. However, compared to this, Terminator: Rise of the Machines is much superior. That’s a shame because I had high hopes for the latest entry into the franchise. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver. I honestly hope that the movie does well enough to justify continuing the franchise. I just hope they put a little more effort into the plot and characters and a little less emphasis on the pyro and CGI.
WHY RENT THIS: If you love action sequences, this movie is chock full of them. Worthington is a big star in the making. Some of the CGI here is breathtaking.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Bale’s performance is one of the least successful of his career. Emphasis on action comes at the expense of character development and plot.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gruesome violence and scary monsters will make this too intense for young impressionable sorts.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This is the first Terminator film without Earl Boen, who plays the cynical psychiatrist in the first three films.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The single-disc DVD has no extra features. Nada. None. There is a 2-disc DVD edition which is only available at Target which has 30 minutes of special features, undoubtedly some of which are on the Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray is in Maximum Movie Mode which utilizes the Blu-Ray features better than almost any other Blu-Ray on the market, with interactive access to nearly every featurette and info piece on the disc.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: Miami Vice