I wasn’t expecting all that much from Terminator Salvation, but I found it half-tolerable — occasionally stirring and decently crafted, and propelled by a reasonably compelling story by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris. It’s basically a grab-bag tentpole whore piece (Terminator shards and remnants blended with The Road Warrior, Transformers and The Road), but it’s also the best film McG has ever done, mainly because of a humanistic theme (i.e., what finally separates men from machines) that’s agreeably delivered.

It’s a curious thing to go into a film ready to hate only to feel gradually disarmed, at least to the point that discomfort isn’t a factor. It wasn’t blown away but I can live with respectably crafted apocalypse-event films of this pedigree. At least Terminator Salvation tries to do the right thing in a reasonably stand-up way. It’s not crazily edited; you can follow what’s going on. It’s a long way from visceral Bayo sludge, or at least is a county or two removed.

And what a surprise that the film doesn’t belong to Christian Bale but to Sam Worthington, playing a cyborg who doesn’t know he’s a cyborg. His character’s moral growth arc actually got to me. The film’s salvation is that it’s not about John Connor but Marcus Wright. Worthington’s upcoming lead performance in Avatar will almost certainly close the deal on his being….well, I’m not sure what he is. He’s a bit of a mutt Australian who isn’t quite charismatic in a young-Mel-Gibson way, but there’s something vaguely Eastwoodish about him.

The headless giant cyborg was obviously thrown in to match the spectacle of Transformers, the Arnold Schwarzenegger CG-borg looks slapdash, and Moon Bloodgood, who plays the strongest female character with the most screen time, looks and acts like a model on a weekend campout.

For years it’s been a settled issue in my head that McG is a demonic Hollywood shill for having injected those legendarily poisonous Charlie’s Angels movies into the communal bloodstream, but now I don’t know what to think. He’ll always be a big-studio hack but I’m now willing to consider him as a non-satanic force. Terminator Salvation is a decently made film as far as it goes.