Early signs for Terminator 3: Rise of the
Machines were less than promising. To begin with, James
Cameron, mastermind of the first two hit films, was uninvolved,
replaced by little-known director Jonathan Mostow
Gone, too, was Cameron’s ex-wife and two-time star Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor, the woman whose son John would become the leader of the human resistance against renegade machines in a post-apocalyptic future. Even Edward Furlong, who played young John in T2, was replaced by one Nick Stahl (In the Bedroom).
Arnold himself, of course, was Back, in the role that launched him into superstardom nearly 20 years ago. But it’s been years since he’s had a hit — in fact, since his last collaboration with Cameron, True Lies — and his return to the Terminator role after a string of flops like Batman and Robin and Collateral Damage seemed about as confidence-inspiring as the prospect of Harrison Ford making another Indiana Jones movie (and without Steven Spielberg yet).
Nor did the new film’s premise — Terminator against an even
more advanced female
Yet against all odds, T3 is a smart, rousing extension of Cameron’s paranoid fantasy that not only meshes seamlessly with the past and future continuities of the earlier films, but actually advances and develops the series’ apocalyptic mythology. While there are some laugh-out-loud moments, and while the action scenes are as big as or bigger than anything that’s gone before, it never tips over into self-parody, nor does it indulge in the level of gratuitous brutality of the earlier films. To top it off, the slam-bang climax will leave fans actually looking forward to the possible prospect of a T4, yet without leaving them feeling cheated like the end of Matrix Reloaded.
Plotwise, T3 advances the storyline beyond the time-travelling standoffs of the earlier films, in which machines and humans alternately sought to preempt the other side from ever getting off the ground in the first place. By the end of T2, it looked as if the rise of the machines had been preempted; but ten years later John Connor still isn’t taking any chances. Ever wary of the prospect that a machine from a supposedly averted future may one day show up to kill him, he lives as an anonymous, untraceable drifter. Eventually, of course, his fears are realized, and it looks as if Judgment Day may only have been delayed, not prevented — in fact, according to a message from the future, Judgment Day is inevitable. That doesn’t stop John from setting out to stop it again.
T3 reprises elements from its predecessors, especially
the theme of a reprogrammed Terminator
Fans of the series know that each Terminator has always been
destroyed by the end of the film, so Arnold never plays the same
unit from one film to the next. The first
Arnold is as solid as ever in the role, playing it with just the right blend of seriousness and a touch of humor. There’s no hint here of the open camp or self-parody of his True Lies / Last Action Hero persona; this isn’t a caricature of a Terminator, but the real thing. Physically, too, he’s suitably pumped up for the role, and somehow looks ten years younger even in his face.
Stahl brings convincing depth to the role of the haunted young
man who has grown up afraid of his destiny. Equally effective is
costar Claire Danes (The Hours)
as Kate Brewster, a young woman who, much like the Sarah Connors
of the first film, finds herself suddenly swept out of normal
life into a nightmarish reality in which it seems she has a
crucial destiny to play. As the Terminatrix, Loken is coolly
glamorous and athletic; she’s not as frighteningly focused as
The film’s not without problems. An crucial early sequence
depends on a jaw-dropping coincidence, and I’m not sure the film
follows its own rules regarding a plot point similar to the
device in T2 that required the
More than either of the earlier films, T3 is a straight-ahead action picture. The first Terminator film was a paranoid sci‑fi fantasy; the second was really largely a showcase of bleeding-edge computer morphing effects with some big action set pieces. T3 doesn’t break much new effects ground, but its biggest set piece — an outsize vehicular chase scene involving an enormous truck-mounted crane, a fire engine, and a van — not only outdoes not only the big tanker-trailer set piece from T2, but also shows up the ballyhooed freeway scene from Matrix Reloaded.
Though still a violent film about killer cyborgs, T3 is
less cruel than Cameron’s films. Even a shot of a policeman being
impaled from behind isn’t as terrible as the sadistic beating
death of a boyfriend in the original, or the horrific skewering
of John Connor’s foster father in the sequel. In fact, by today’s
standards, with minor adjustments T3 could probably have
gotten away with a
I also appreciate the fact that, while the world of the Terminator films isn’t an especially optimistic one for mankind, this third film avoids the male-bashing theme of the earlier sequel — a potential point of concern when you have a more advanced female Terminator kicking around the obsolete male unit. Sparing us anything like Sarah Connor’s T2 speech about evil men with their killing machines versus virtuous women with their life-giving wombs, or her nomination of the Terminator as father of the year, T3 allows its female heavy to be the big killer while its messianic young male hero finally comes into his own.
As I watched John Connor’s final onscreen moments at the end of T3, I actually wanted to see what happened next. That represents a level of ongoing interest in the character, and the world he inhabits, that I didn’t have coming into the theater.
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I was reading your review of Terminator 3 recently, and I basically agreed with it wholeheartedly. I was once a big fan of the series, at a time when I took my faith less seriously, and I haven’t watched any of them for some time. I was wondering if we could get a quick take from you on the other Terminator films (both moral and artistic merits) and whether they are worth re-watching, since I doubt you’ll ever have the time or inclination to do full reviews for them.
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