Yes,“Terminator Salvation” is a high-adrenaline action-adventure film with robots, car chases and — of course — gargantuan explosions. But at the core of this sci-fi flick is a surprising hope for the resilience of what makes us human: our souls. Yet “Terminator Salvation” is also a visceral tale of humanity.
The set-up for the post-apocalyptic action film: humankind creates a thinking machine — Skynet — and it backfires on them. Skynet finds that the only way to ensure its survival is to destroy all humans. “Terminator Salvation” begins after the majority of the world's population has been killed and follows the small number of survivors who have chosen to resist the machines. In turn, Skynet manufactures another type of machine called, of course, the Terminator, whose sole purpose is to hunt down and exterminate all humans. The film makes this all very clear, and doesn't get bogged down in inconsequential details. It spends very little time on exposition. The greatest benefit of a Hollywood budget is that filmmakers can spend time showing instead of telling.
The film follows two men on the journey to mold their own fate. The first is John Connor (Christian Bale, who resurrected Batman in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”), the prophesied leader of the human resistance and a soldier who struggles with his supposed fate. Bale packs a powerful performance that lets Connor become an enigmatic figure who keeps the viewer guessing whether he is being selfish or selfless when trying to live up to his anticipated destiny.
The other man is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate given new life as a humanoid — with a human heart — by Skynet. Marcus is the more interesting of the two, the embodiment of the war between man and machine. Unaware that he is no longer fully human, Marcus' revelation at the hands of Connor sets into motion an existential debate about fate and the human soul that the film handles surprisingly well. Is Marcus still a human even though he was manufactured rather than born?
Binding the stories of John Connor and Marcus Wright are the opposing ideas of fate and choice. Each of them has a fate: one — a soldier against all odds — to be the fearless leader of humankind, and the other — a human in a robot's body — to bring the demise of what was once his own race. Do their choices have any sway in what will eventually transpire, or does fate direct their choices?
The film asks these questions amidst a barrage of beautifully crafted visual effects which soar with the help of the dark score by composer Danny Elfman. Director McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “We Are Marshall”) takes you into the action with some — but not an excess of — handheld shots that intensify the film.
Who wins, man or machine? You're going to have to see for yourself. I won't give everything away. See the movie for an intellectual debate or just for some edge-of-your-seat action: you'll love it either way.
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