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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

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. "Terminator Salvation"

Things did not go well for humans at the conclusion of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and McG, the director of "Salvation," has done all he can with 4 to pull off a salvation after three years to think about it. If there's no future to the series after this, it'll be on his plate. And, if there is such a demise, it'll allow us to remember the first three--classics of the genre--with great fondness.

Of course, the opposite goes if loud, pounding, grinding, colliding and exploding metal is what you seek for your batteries to recharge; if you can keep track of why human survivors never managed to gain control over the cyborgs despite Arnold Schwarzenegger's best efforts; and if the people of 2018 are little more than stubbornly breathing targets who can run and hide and call themselves the resistance. But for the greater number of us, characters who are given so little beyond the story outline are a problem.

Which boils down to the past directly influencing the future. When clever but demented human scientists created their cybernetic organisms and designed them with state-of-the-art weapons and artificial intelligence to carry out programs to kill specific targets, these sociopathic lab rats had no foreboding that evil spawns evil. They were giving their fiendish electromechanical devices the possibility to turn on and destroy their creators. Under the network called Skynet, the analytically advanced Cyborgs then proceeded to perfect themselves so that the organic part (and pesky moral virtues) of their output was less and less required.

Skynet, in part, has now become a factory to produce endless numbers of mindless, morality-free slaves of circuit boards and a hidden frequency to receive their orders and anti-enemy intel. These are some very well-endowed monstrosities.

Having become aware 14 years earlier that one John Connor (here Christian Bale, "Batman Begins") would be the human who would destroy them, Skynet attempted to head off that destiny by sending Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger, "Terminator") to end Sarah Connor's life before she conceives her son. But, as we know, T-800 retained enough morality from his natural side that it was possible to reprogram him to guard her instead ("Terminator 2"). T-800 then came up up against increasingly superior machines (like the T-1000 melting man and the alluring T-X by Kristanna Loken) and, by now, it's been consigned to the scrap heap, completely outmoded. It makes a cameo appearance for old times' sake.

After a number of scenes showing the combat advantages the metallic monsters have over the few remaining humans who call themselves the "resistance," the impossibility of gaining a foothold--let alone a chance to annihilate them--seems remote. Connor looks for a best approach by replaying his mother's tapes of guidance which she made before she died.

Then, a new character appears on the nuclear devastated landscape. Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death-row inmate who didn't read the fine print when Dr. Serena Kogan (witchily beautiful Helena Bonham Carter) offered him a post-death ressurection just before his execution for killing a couple of guys. All he had to do was sign on the bottom line. What an admirable nicety.

Marcus is strong and handsome, and can fix just about anything mechanical. The last thing in the world you want to do is go up against him. But for Connor, the stranger is a matter for deep concern. He can trust this guy only when his back is to the wall and even when his associates, including his wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) offer their advice against granting it. Only the take-no-prisoners Blair Williams (sensual Moon Bloodgood) sees him as good and worthy of trust but, then, she's seen his human side and has become involved with the guy.

Finally, manning his own resistance cell, there's gutsy and resourceful Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, "Star Trek") who must be saved at all costs because he's destined to be sent back in time to help save Sarah Connor. Kyle is accompanied by Star (Jadagrace Berry), a nine-year old girl with the ability to sense the presence of a Terminator before it appears. Nice.

No easy screenplay to write, and that duty fell to John Brancato and Michael Ferris ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines") for McG to direct. But somewhere between 3 and 4 the human factor was diminished for the sake of the chase action, the bullets, and the machinery, which are conveyed without a doubt as to what can be unleashed. We're very impressed with the threats, the sounds and the dangers. In fact, we're at a loss to explain how these humans stand a chance, how they can get through such unceasing walls of ballistics and demonic speed of their intended slayers.

The only "small" episode that takes the time to portray some emotion other than fear, anger and loss is the attraction that develops between Blair and Marcus. But even that hint of potential intimacy and romance becomes another device to create more havoc.

What's missing in the chemistry of this movie are the qualities of vulnerability and imperfection so ably rendered by Schwarzenegger as he proves more human than mechanical. The dilemma that helped make the series so intriguing and singular is gone. There's no one in sight who is allowed to engage us so completely on this journey with humanoid proclivities. Skynet learned its lesson and the writers of this continuation didn't remember or value high enough what a vital element the dual nature of a cyborg implies.

Gone, too, is the anticipation of a catastophic world future--we're already there--and the reasonable possibility that one human being has the power to reverse the horrors to come. What's left for humanity seems to be the single-minded effort to thwart the machines' hunt to kill them. So, it's almost full time defense and strategy with little to no time for unguarded intimacy.

Bale adopts the passioneless tenor of the robots and inspires little of the sympathy so vital for his central role. He conveys more toughness than his predecessor in the role at the cost of a portrayal that is distant and aloof. He barely relates to wife Kate and clearly doesn't see the need to address audience sympathy for his character. When you consider the cold manner of this action player you may well ask, "where is Nick Stahl when you need him?"

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The Soundtrack

A blasting soundtrack by Danny Elfman quickens the pulse and all visual artistry is top notch. But they've lost track of why the original Terminators were cyborgs and not robots, as they are here. Which wipes out our admiration and fear over their ever increasing threat level against those we care for. In other words, they used to engage us viscerally, and here they don't. The odds have shifted, and this doesn't serve the drama well. Let's face it, our humans get through hails of ordnance only because the writers will it so.

On the human side, what's needed are a few more bullet-free moments when people show us something inside that involve us where we live. (There is a cyborg in the mix but it's not a Terminator and doesn't act like one).

But, despite all that, revenues will no doubt amass as payoff for the more dimensional earlier installments, and will prevent the termination of the Terminators.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written - Off base
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review

THe movie was aewsome I sqaw it yesterday I just wish they waste Helena Banmah Carter's talent.

                                                           ~~ J. D. Hall 
Poorly written
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 5

With respect to Mr. Brenner, in large part his basis for criticism is just factually wrong. In the first terminator movie kyle reese explains to sara connor that the robots developed infiltrators to assassinate resistance members, first they tried units with synthetic skin but thse units where easily thwarted by guard dogs. only then did sky net create the T-800 cyborg unit. The full synthetic infiltrator is actually in the flashback scene of the first movie where kyle reese loses his picture of sara connor. As it relates to salvation I think they did a very respectful job of weaving into the past and future of this ongoing tale of time paradox.

                                                           ~~ Matt 
Well written
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 6

While the reviewer knows what makes a good movie, he has a few short circuits when it comes to knowing the Terminator series. First, the use of the term cyborg in the previous films specifically referred to robots whose only human component was the fleshy overcoat and artificial personality designed for infiltration; they could survive without flesh. Marcus was, by contrast, a human brain driving a robot body, very much like Robocop. His angst drives the film, not John Connor's. Second, this is the first film set after Judgement Day, and the run-and-hide mentality is what humanity has been reduced to, in-between explosions. This is not the beginning of the war nor its end, but the darkness of life in its middle. The bleakness of this postapocalyptic future, with unorganized resistance pockets looking out only for themselves, is simply dark realism. The character development comes when Marcus realizes his second chance came at too high a cost, and will sacrifice himself for the greater good of a living John Connor.

                                                           ~~ Luke 
Very well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

                                                           ~~ Nony M.
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 5

The reason the original Terminators were cyborgs was because only a machine coated in organic tissue could be sent through time. The Terminator in the first movie was a machine covered in human flesh. It did not have a heart or the potential to learn human kindness.

                                                           ~~ Barry D.

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John Connor (Christian Bale) thinks he's got the drop on a production line "T."

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