Robot Movie of the Week: Terminator Salvation (August 29 - September 4)

Images Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This week's Robot Movie of the Week is McG's Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, and Helena Bonham-Carter.  As many may remember, there was a great deal of anticipation and press around the release of this movie, partly as a result of the expensive advertising campaign, but primarily due to Christian Bale's cursed-filled rant targeted at the cast and crew of the film, a tirade which found its way into the news and onto youtube.  I first saw this film right after it was released (in 2009) and can still recall the mixed feelings that the audience took away with them after viewing.  The collective opinion seemed to be that the film was a let-down, in particular, that the poorer aspects of the film overpowered and were more memorable than the strong points.   There is no question, in my mind, that this film is leaps and bounds above the Terminator film that preceded it and, at least, is on a level which allows it to be compared to the first two Terminator films.  Certainly, Terminator Salvation is darker and more serious than T2 or T3; in fact, it resembles the original Terminator to a greater extent than any of the other films in the franchise.  This back to basics approach is one of the saving graces of the film as is the quality acting from the lead performers in the movie.

"Ah!  So that's what death tastes like."

Like the other Terminator films, and in line with most films that feature very humanoid robots as primary actors or as a major theme of the film, Terminator Salvation describes another episode in the epic struggle of man vs. machine.  The film begins when Marcus (Worthington), a young man who has committed a crime that has resulted in the deaths of three people, signs a contract donating his body to science after his "death" by lethal injection for his crimes.  Dr. Kogan (played by Helena Bonham-Carter) proclaims that Marcus's act will benefit the human race, a declaration which the convicted criminal seems unmoved by.  We witness the injection of the lethal chemicals that end Marcus's life and then the film fast forwards to 2018, where we see John Connor (Bale) participating in a mission in which a Skynet facility is penetrated and a new technology - a signal that allows humans to deactivate the machines controlled by Skynet - is discovered.  The destruction of this facility by Skynet (killing everyone except Connor), releases Marcus.  He makes his way to Los Angeles, where he meets the L.A. Branch of the Human Resistance led by Kyle Reece (Anton Yelchin), a boy of about sixteen or seventeen.  Reese is accompanied by a mute child called Star.  As Marcus and the LA Branch attempt to make contact with other resistance fighters, they are attacked by the machines and Kyle Reece and Star are captured and taken to Skynet.

Moon Bloodgood and her infamous eye makeup

After the capture of Kyle Reese, Marcus runs into a resistance fighter named Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), who convinces him to go back to her base and meet John Connor.  While attempting to infiltrate the magnetic mine field that forms the base's defense system, Marcus loses a leg and is revealed to the resistance fighters to be a machine.  Connor, furious that this machine has come to take his life (or so he believes), reveals to Marcus that he is a machine, although Marcus has complete faith that he is human and is not aware of any directive to terminate John Connor or Kyle Reese.  In fact, he informs Connor that Kyle Reese has been captured by the machines and is on a freighter on its way to Skynet headquarters in San Francisco.  Williams, who has quickly fallen for Marcus, enables his escape from the resistance base.  Marcus and Connor (who is convinced of Marcus's sincerity) make a secret pact by which Marcus will help Connor into Skynet to rescue Kyle Reese (who must be eventually be sent into the past so that he can father John Connor... ah, the circle of life!).  In the end, Marcus and Connor end up saving Reese from the original Arnold Schwarzenegger-model Terminator in Skynet, but Connor is mortally-wounded in the process.  Marcus saves Connor's life by sacrificing his own: Marcus gives his very human heart to Connor so that he may continue to lead the resistance.

Marcus is played by Aussie Sam Worthington

From a robot analysis standpoint, the film begins as the usual story of "Man struggling against the machines that seek to destroy him" paradigm, but with the development of the character of Marcus, a machine with the brain and heart of a man, the film delves into the question of what makes us human.  The implications are that humans can defy logical action by putting themselves in danger to help others, essentially committing acts of altruism.  Rather than placing himself as part of the collective identity of Machine, Marcus acts independently, with a very human sort of autonomy.  One of the most significant critiques of the film that I have come across is that the plot is very predictable.  Well, let's face it.  At this point (in 2010), every movie released is predictable.  I thought that the director and the writers handled the subject rather well, helped significantly by Sam Worthington's acting.  Another criticism was that the film relied on Christian Bale to carry the film by using his range as an actor to imbue life into a lackluster plot, and that Bale failed in this endeavor.  Although I do agree that Bale's performance was one-dimensional, it is fairly obvious, at least to a writer, that Bale's interpretation of the character of John Connor was that the commander was a hardeened man, with steely resolve (a one-dimensional human being, if you will), and this interpretation seems not only plausible, but appropriate.

Marcus and Blair Williams make a love connection

To be frank, I approve of the film primarily because I can easily envison how it could have been much worse, especially considering the previous Terminator film.  The film is brought down by notably cheesy moments, in particular, the appearance of a computer-generated T600 (that resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger).  Although this has not been appreciated in the reviews that I have come across, the emphasis on the human qualities of Marcus, in contrast to his robot parts and directives, is conceptually important in film and a strong point of the picture.  It is certainly true that the film might have devoted a few moments to displaying that Marcus was conflicted between his machine directives and the calls of his human nature, but this portrayal is not essential to the film, and it certainly would have made the film much longer.  Yes, the film was predictable, yes Christian Bale's performance was one-dimensional, but Terminator Salvation (if compared to other films which portray robots) is an important movie in the robot genre of science fiction.  It hints at the dichotomous nature of robots (albeit in a way that is handled better in Blade Runner), and it introduces an emotional element of what I suppose must be called the android motif.  This film deserves more praise than it has gotten and is an important member of the robot science fiction catalogue.

I guess Arnold was too busy to actually appear in the film

Last Updated January 26, 2011

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