By Kim Hollis
July 2, 2003
In the interest of full disclosure, I think it’s important that I note from the outset that The Terminator is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s a perfect action film, with driving suspense, terror, and cleverly designed conflict, all on a low-level budget. Stark, bleak and wildly entertaining, it set up one of the best-received sequels of all-time, T2: Judgment Day, a big-budget blowout with one of the most fear-inspiring villains ever to grace the big screen.
Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I awaited the opening of the third film in the series. Admittedly, the danger signs were numerous. Say what you will about James Cameron The Man, but he handled the first two Terminator flicks with a keenness and agility that seem nearly impossible to duplicate. His decision to not return for a third film definitely set off warning bells. Beyond that problem, of the major players in the first two films (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Michael Biehn, Robert Patrick), only Schwarzenegger returns to reprise his role as the T-800. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor has passed away, while Furlong’s personal demons caused producers to recast the role of John Connor.
Making matters worse, the trailers and commercials for the film were simply awful. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines resembled nothing less than a train wreck of monumental proportions, even to the point that I considered never seeing the film at all.
I’m happy to report that my preconceived notions were completely off the mark.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines marks a return to the simplicity that makes the first film in the series such a thing of glory. In this film, as in the first, it’s all about the suspense of the chase. Director Jonathan Mostow wisely realized that it would be hopeless to try to duplicate the ingenuity of the nearly indestructible T-1000 that dominated T2, and going back to basics was a clever and effective choice.
The story is set in a future ten years after the end of the previous movie, with a now adult John Connor struggling with the inner difficulties created when he escaped the unimaginable T-1000 and averted the very end of the world. He knows that he should be at peace because Cyberdyne, the company that would have created the network of machines responsible for the end of the world, has been destroyed. Nonetheless, he lives an uneasy existence, wandering the world but staying disconnected from it, with no phone, permanent address, or bank account.
Nick Stahl (who was a revelation in the Academy Award nominated film In the Bedroom) is very up to the task of replacing Furlong as Leader of the Free World John Connor. He’s brooding, unkempt, earnest and unlikely.
Naturally, the uneasy peace that has existed in spite of all future indications to the contrary is about to be broken. The screenwriters for the film wisely chose to vague up the reasons why, simply making it clear that rather than stopping the destruction of the world, it was only prolonged.
Enter the Terminators. The first one to arrive on the scene is the TX, a female terminator with an unrelenting drive to complete her mission. As in the original Terminator, the motivations for the selection of certain subjects goes unexplained for a good portion of T3, bringing to mind the air of terror shrouded in mystery that pervaded in the 1984 film. As portrayed by newcomer Kristanna Loken, this new terminatrix has next to no dialogue, but instead effectively gets across the fact that the TX is an emotionless and cold machine.
Of course, Schwarzenegger is back as the T-800, the outmoded terminator with a responsibility to protect his charge at all costs. He’s just as solid here as he is in the first two films, with additional opportunities at deadpan humor that really work rather well.
Also onboard this time is Claire Danes, who plays a veterinarian with a part to play in the future of the human race. Like Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in the first film, she moves from vulnerability to inner strength with subtlety and strength.
But in all honesty, the performances are one of the least important facets for a film like T3. All that is really necessary is that they be solid, and the movie thankfully delivers in that regard (unlike other horrible sequel stuff in the vein of 2Fast 2Furious). The big question is whether the action scenes are big, bombastic and entertaining. The very satisfactory answer is that Terminator 3 hits the ground running and never looks back or even pauses for breath.
Suffice it to say that there are exploding trucks, police cars, helicopters, and buildings, along with a multitude of creative weapons. Although the action is non-stop, T3 is never overly self-serious or consumed with its own importance, as gallows humor is abundant. Additionally, despite the fact that T3 is the very definition of a big budget production, the action scenes hearken back much more to The Terminator than to T2: Judgment Day, where less is more and a cemetery fight scene that looks ludicrous in trailers and commercials emerges as a thing of glory.
Unfortunately, many audience members are likely to be put off by the movie’s ending, but I found it to be perfectly in keeping with pieces that are revealed during the course of the film. Additionally, the end game that precedes the denouement is a wonderful homage to the first film, capping off the atmospheric quality that dominates throughout.
And it’s these careful tributes that make Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines rise above being just another crappy sequel that has no comprehension of its source material. Fans of the Terminator movies should find it a very respectable and enjoyable continuation of the series.
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