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‘Terminator Salvation’ missing human touch

Christian Bale gets a big speech at the end of “Terminator Salvation” about how machines will never be able to fully replicate human beings and how the human heart and soul are impossible for androids to understand.

Watching this fourth entry in the “Terminator” saga, one is tempted to guess that the film’s lack of either heart or soul is in reality a complex metaphor for mankind’s eternal struggle against mechanization. The truth is, unfortunately, that the movie’s just not that good.

While “Salvation” delivers the holy-crap moments you expect in a McG epic — from breathtaking chase sequences featuring killer robots of all shapes and sizes to a forest-clearing napalm raid that must have left a doozy of a carbon footprint — the human factor remains a weak point. When a “Terminator” movie leaves you pondering time-travel contradictions and not surging with adrenaline, something has gone very wrong.

The story begins in 2003, where death-row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) signs a devil’s bargain with Cyberdine Industries researcher Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), allowing the company to use his corpse for research purposes.

Jump forward to 2018 and the grim post-apocalyptic landscape of Earth after Judgment Day, when the sentient Skynet defense system launched nukes to wipe out the human threat. Resistance fighter John Connor (Bale) leads a squadron on a raid of a Skynet lab where human test subjects have been taken prisoner; another nuke is detonated, leaving two survivors — Connor and Wright, who has somehow survived and finds himself adrift in this terrifying new world.

Wright is aided by young fighter Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), whom Connor is also looking to protect, since — as we know from the first movie — Reese is supposed to go back in time to impregnate Connor’s mother so that Connor can be born. (Here’s where the headache-inducing time-travel inconsistencies begin; the less you can make yourself dwell on them, the better.)

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Christian Bale in "Dark Knight Rises"

    Christian Bale’s career

    He earned raves for his work in "The Fighter," but acting is nothing new to Bale, who starred in "Empire of the Sun" when he was just 13.

  • Image: Christian Bale in "Dark Knight Rises"

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    Batman's back -

    Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne and Batman in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises," the final film in the "Dark Knight" trilogy.

    Warner Bros. / Legendary Pictures / Warner Bros. / Legendary Pictures
  • Spike TV's 6th Annual 2012 "Guys Choice" Awards - Show

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    Bale and director Christopher Nolan accept the award for most anticipated movie for "The Dark Knight Rises" during Spike TV's 6th Annual Guys Choice Awards on June 2, 2012 in Culver City, Calif.

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  • Image: 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Show

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    A 'Fighter's' triumph -

    Bale won the Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for "The Fighter" on Jan. 30, 2011. Bale thanked the man he played in the film, retired boxer Dicky Eklund, saying "thank you for living the life and thank you for letting me play you."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Christian Bale, Sibi Blazic

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    Red-carpet couple -

    Bale, left, and wife Sibi Blazic arrive at the 2011 SAG Awards. She once worked as a personal assistant to actress Winona Ryder. The couple have a daughter, Emmeline, born in 2005.

    AP / AP
  • Image: 83rd Academy Awards - Nominations

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    Blood brothers -

    Bale's character in "The Fighter" is the brother of a rising boxer played by Mark Wahlberg.

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    Hunting Dillinger -

    In 2009's "Public Enemies," Bale starred as federal agent Melvin Purvis, promoted by J. Edgar Hoover to pursue gangster John Dillinger. Johnny Depp played Dillinger.

    Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures
  • Premiere Of Warner Bros. "Terminator Salvation" - Arrivals

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    You're being followed -

    Christian Bale arrives at the premiere of "Terminator Salvation" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Thursday, May 14, 2009, in Hollywood, Calif.

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    Man vs. machine -

    In "Terminator Salvation," Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. The actor made headlines before the film's release when an audio recording caught him in a profanity-filled, on-set rant against the film's director of photography.

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  • Actor Christian Bale accepts award at the 35th annual People's Choice awards in Los Angeles

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    Man of the people -

    Bale accepts the award for favorite on screen match-up for "The Dark Knight" at the 35th annual People's Choice awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2009. The award was for his on-screen work with the late Heath Ledger, who played the Joker to Bale's Batman. "The Dark Knight" took home five People's Choice Awards, including favorite movie.

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    'Knight' time -

    Bale took on the role of Batman for the second time in director Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight." Bale told MoviesOnline.com what appealed to him about the film. "This was no longer an action movie," he said. "This was no longer a superhero movie. This was a movie that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any genre of movie."

    Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Christian Bale Arrives At Narita Airport

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    Family man -

    Bale and his daughter Emmeline and wife Sibi Blazic arrive at Narita International Airport for the promotion of "The Dark Knight" on July 26, 2009 in Narita, Japan.

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    Doing Dylan -

    Bale was one of six actors (which included his "Dark Knight" co-star, Heath Ledger) who portrayed versions of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' 2007 film, "I'm Not There."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    Western style -

    Bale starred as a small-town rancher who must deliver an outlaw (played by Russell Crowe) to a train in 2007's "3:10 to Yuma." Bale told the Onion A.V. Club that "like in most Westerns, you have the very clear-cut bad-guy/good-guy, however, as the movie progresses, you kind of see that it's a very fine line that divides these two."

    Lion's Gate Films / Lion's Gate Films
  • British actor Christian Bale signs autog

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    Time for fans -

    Bale signs autographs for his fans as he arrives for the German premiere of his film "Batman Begins" on June 15, 2005, in Berlin. The movie tells the story of how the leading character, Bruce Wayne, became what he was destined to be: Batman.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
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    Leading ladies -

    Katie Holmes, as Rachel Dawes, starred opposite Bale in "Batman Begins." She was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal for "The Dark Knight."

    Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.
  • BATMAN BEGINS PREMIERE 2005

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    Batman beckons -

    Bale and wife Sibi Blazic promote "Batman Begins." Bale told About.com that he'd initially been skeptical about doing a comic book film, until he checked out the source material. "I read 'Batman Year One' and like the 'Dark Victory' and stuff, and I thought, 'This is good stuff. There's a really great character here. The way that they play it is fantastic. Why has there never been a movie done?'"

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Extreme dedication -

    Bale lost 62 pounds (he was down to 120) to play the lead role in 2004's "The Machinist." The film tells the story of a man who suffers from both insomnia and paranoia, and slowly starts losing his grip on reality. Staying away from food during the shoot wasn't easy for Bale. He told Ain't It Cool News, "I chose not to go eat with anybody, because the second I saw or smelled that food, I was like a wolf. And, I had a couple of times when I did do that, and I ate five meals at one go, you know?"

    Everett Collection. / Everett Collection.
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    Psycho killer -

    Bale starred as serial killer, executive and Phil Collins fan Patrick Bateman in 2000's "American Psycho," opposite Chloe Sevigny. Bale told Reel.com that director Mary Harron described the character by saying he was "an alien who is trying to understand or fit into society. It was a great description, really, because he is so inhuman but is attempting to understand these things called humans."

    Lion's Gate Films / Lion's Gate Films
  • "SHAFT" MOVIE STILLS

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    Bad guy roles -

    In 2000's "Shaft" remake, Bale starred opposite Samuel L. Jackson as a murderer who leaves the country to escape prosecution. When he returns to the States, it's up to Shaft to make sure that Bale's character, Walter Wade, doesn't get to the key witness.

    Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures
  • Christian Bale Stars In The NBC Movie Mary, Mother Of Jesus

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    Ready for any role -

    Bale took on the role of Jesus of Nazareth in the 1999 NBC movie "Mary, Mother of Jesus." According to IMDB.com, Madonna was originally supposed to take on the role of Mary, but dropped out just before filming began.

    Lion's Gate Films / Lion's Gate Films
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    'Empire' strikes Bale -

    Though he'd had a few other small roles, Bale's big break came at age 13 when he was cast in the lead of Steven Spielberg's 1987 film, "Empire of the Sun." According to IMDB.com, Bale was chosen from 4,000 boys who auditioned for the role.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • "Empire of the Sun" Los Angeles Premiere

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    Early years -

    Bale made a name for himself in "Empire of the Sun." As a teen, he would go on to star in films such as "Swing Kids" and "Newsies."

    WireImage / WireImage

Connor and Wright wind up at odds — for reasons that I won’t disclose here, even though it’s the worst-kept spoiler secret in recent Hollywood history — but they must work together to rescue Reese from the Skynet headquarters in San Francisco.

I can do nothing but praise the action sequences here, with the possible exception of the climactic fight in the Terminator factory, which smacks too much of the climactic fights of the first two films in the series. Throughout the rest of the film, however, the Terminators — ranging from mini-motorcycles to building-size people-snatchers — are consistently terrifying, and director McG isn’t afraid to amp up the mayhem way past what you’d be expecting.

Given the atrocious dialogue and sketchy characters created by screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, one can hardly blame the cast for mostly breezing through the cacophony. Bale seems to be reworking his husky whisper from the Batman movies while the striking-looking Worthington drifts in and out of his native Australian accent with alarming frequency. Only Bryce Dallas Howard, as Bale’s pregnant wife and resistance comrade, strikes the occasional note of humanity amidst the carnage.

The machines, as the movie keeps reminding us, must be stopped. Especially the machine that sucked the lifeblood out of this franchise.

Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at .

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