Going in, I figured this to be a film with plenty of potential to insult my intelligence, (what's left of it) but I'm delighted as duck doo doo to report that IT DIDN'T! I'll explain why in a moment.
Terminator Salvation is the fourth in the Terminator series. I saw the original 1984 film with "Ahnuld," but missed the next two, so I had some catching up to do. Fortunately, the blanks were pretty well filled in so that someone totally unfamiliar with this series could get his bearings early on.
The year is 2018, and the war between the humans and Skynet (the machines) has been raging, with the machines having decimated most of humanity. The likely here-I-come-to-save-the-day hero is John Connor, (Christian Bale) leader of The Resistance. The UNLIKELY co-hero is Marcus Wright, (Sam Worthington) a criminal who is executed in the beginning of the film, but gets resurrected (didn't insult my intelligence) to become Connor's ally in the fight--but not until Connor overcomes serious doubts about the guy. Wright has received an "extreme makeover" courtesy of Skynet, and is now a cyborg--part human and part machine (didn't insult my intelligence). Connor is thinking: Whose side is this dude on? Luckily, though, Wright's heart is still human--which is not lost on Blair Williams, (the exotic Moon Bloodgood) Resistance fighter pilot who recognizes the good in Wright from the get-go. This is where the film makes the case for reverence for ALL life--even if you don't know what category to fit it into.
Skynet has a crapload of human prisoners--they plan to develop a new kind of Terminator using live tissue. It's up to Connor to lead the resistance into a climactic attack on Skyynet's headquarters without killing the captives in the process--even though his orders from headquarters (which he rejects) are to bomb the place to smithereens, no questions asked. I like a movie--no matter what the genre--that deals with philosophical issues, and some of them in Terminator Salvation seem to reflect on the Bush-Cheney regime's handling of the Iraq war. There's the issue of "collateral damage,'' innocent civilians being killed as a result of a war strategy that assumes the end justifies the means. And there's a clear poke at the Bush-Cheney policy of torturing prisoners, when Connor balks at some of the tactics he's asked to use by emphatically stating that if we become just like THEM, what's the point of winning?
Now, here's the part where Terminator Salvation COULD have insulted my intelligence, but didn't. Blair Williams, the fighter pilot, is accosted by a number of men. She's a tough cookie--she gets her licks and her kicks in and puts up a good fight, but the men eventually overpower her. Not like that stupid character Jennifer Garner played in that stupid espionage TV series she was in, where she would routinely kick the crap out of half a dozen men all at once without breaking a sweat. That's cartoon stuff--and I can only think that the writers who try to patronize women in this silly kind of way must be hoping that once their wives or girlfriends see it onscreen they'll be extra nice to them in the bedroom.
Terminator Salvation is like the sensory overload of Christmas morning. The clanking bogeymen on the Skynet side--whether on foot, on wheels, or in the air--are such imaginative creations that you can only sit there with your mouth hanging open. It's a thrill ride of immense creative genius, and if there were ever a prudent reason for strapping moviegoers into their seats--this is it.
The only "huh?" kind of thing I can point out is that the movie is set in the year 2018. That's only nine years from now, and I highly doubt that the machines will be ready to challenge man for dominion over the planet by then. Then again, we've already come out with the "Smart Car," so you never know.