In the summer of the re-boot, Hollywood hands us Terminator Salvation, the latest take on this storied franchise that’s been around for 25 years. The original was…well, original—a great story accomplished on a less-than-shoestring budget by writer/director James Cameron. The sequel provided him with a lot more money to work with, and it ended up being one of the greatest action movies of all time. Cameron turned over the reins at that point, and the franchise went downhill.

New director McG (yeah…that’s his name), throws the kitchen sink into this action film, and the result is a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong…the kitchen sink does include some amazing special effects. The highway chase scenes are well done, and there’s a giant robot that’s incredibly cool and creepy. But it’s too much action—even for an action movie. For a film that’s so interested in showcasing humanity and life, it doesn’t seem very interested in making us care for these people. There’s little character development, no humor, and nothing to make us sympathize with these people who are supposed to be the last of our kind. Sure there’s the obligatory cute kid who’s supposed to make us feel something, but that’s a cheap, overused ploy. Every time the film seems set up to address some deeper questions, it instead jumps into an action scene with a killer robot.

Christian Bale plays John Connor, a grunt in the Resistance against the machines. Of course, sometimes he’s put in charge of Big Things, so it’s kinda confusing as to what role he has in the organization. Some see him as a savior, and others (we’re told) view him as false prophet—though we’re given zero evidence that anyone doubts him. Bale plays the whole thing with an exhausting intensity that seems overdone. There’s literally only one scene where he talks in a normal voice and acts in a normal way—the scene stood out to me because he was acting so different. I know they’re fighting for their lives, and all, but come on.

The plot is convoluted—even for those familiar with the films. Machines have reached sentience, and their aim is to wipe out humanity. They send the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first film) to kill Sarah Connor, because her son John will lead the Resistance that destroys the machines. So Bale’s John Connor will (probably in the next film) send a resistance fighter named Kyle Reese into the past to save John’s mother. Kyle will end up being John’s father. Confused yet? Don’t worry; the filmmakers hold your hand throughout the film, having characters state and restate how Kyle’s death could affect the future. We get it!

Interestingly, Bale’s Connor isn’t the lone focus of the film. There’s also Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington, who is [spoiler alert, though it was already spoiled by the previews] a robot with a human exterior and a few human parts. He doesn’t know he’s a robot until he’s hit by a land mine, exposing his not-human parts. The question of what constitutes humanity is a topic that many science fiction series have better explored—Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner, for instance—and here it’s not given much depth.

Wright seems to be the genesis of the film’s Salvation moniker. Early on the fully human Wright (a convicted and unapologetic murderer) is shown getting a lethal injection, and the table conspicuously forms a cross. Later, after the mine incident, he’s suspended with his arms tied to the axle of a car, again resembling Christ on the cross—complete with a chain-link crown of thorns! And finally, he’s given a chance to redeem himself at the end of the movie, showing how his human heart has changed—but we’re never told why he changes.

Messiah comparisons aside, there’s no religion to be found here. One character states that “there’s no fate but what we make,” and another remarks that it’s strength of the heart that makes us human. The humanity of this future relies on their own strength to overcome—maybe that’s why they’re losing. There is strength in humanity, but our true strength is only realized in Christ. His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you agree with the statement: “It’s the strength of the heart that makes us human”? Why or why not?
  • Should we always trust our hearts? Why or why not?
  • What’s more important: Our heart or our mind? Explain.
  • What does the word salvation mean to you?
  • Do you think any characters in the film found salvation? Explain.
  • Why do you think Wright seemed to dismiss the idea of second chances? Do you believe in second chances? Even for murderers? Explain.

Scott Firestone IV is the associate editor for Group Magazine, online editor for youthministry.com, and a huge fan of music and movies.

This review first appeared on ministryandmedia.com. Go there. Take the tour. Sign up.

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