Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Posted: June 27, 2015 in Movie Review
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Terminator 3 (2003)

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken

Something… is missing. When I look back on “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” that’s the first thing that comes to mind. There are many who were in the camp that felt it was best just to leave it alone after “Terminator 2,” and they’ve got a point. Storylines were wrapped up, Judgment Day was seemingly prevented. The bar had also been raised in terms of special effects and menacing villains, so anything that followed would have to be something very, very special. Yet, inevitably, as film series continue past their expiration date, highly significant pieces to the puzzle will start to go missing. Especially if you wait more than a decade in-between sequels. Even “The Godfather” is guilty of this, waiting 16 years in-between movies 2 and 3. “Terminator 3” was released a dozen years after “Terminator 2,” and by the time 2003 rolled around, the following personnel had either opted out or were not asked back: James Cameron, Linda Hamilton and Brad Fiedel. So the series would have to move on without its creator/director, lead actress, and composer. Their absence is noticeable, but it is not the only reason for the inferiority of “Terminator 3.”

In 2004, John Connor (Nick Stahl) is a man alone, directionless and homeless. Because he’s never been safe a day in his life, the homeless part is his idea. But after having seemingly prevented Judgment Day, along with his mother, Sarah, and the Terminator which his older self had reprogrammed and sent back in time to protect him, John’s future is unclear to him. Sarah raised her son to believe he would one day lead a human resistance to victory against their machine overlords, but how can that still be his fate if the cataclysmic event that precedes it never took place? August 29, 1997 came and went without incident, and yet John still feels uneasy.

Like Windows and Apple, SkyNet always seems to be dreaming up new pieces of technology. Now comes the T-X (Kristanna Loken), which takes on the appearance of a sexy blonde female and is capable of things her predecessors couldn’t do. It has a metal endoskeleton like the T-800 and can shapeshift like the T-1000, but the T-X can also form plasma cannons and flamethrowers with its arm, and can hook into other machines to control them remotely. This means that, in the case of car chases, the T-X doesn’t have to be right up on our heroes’ bumper to potentially run them off the road. Also, because SkyNet figured that the resistance would likely choose another reprogrammed killing machine to send back in time, fellow Terminators are part of the T-X’s hit list. The T-850 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), itself an enhanced version of the T-800, tells John this much during one of the many times they are trying to evade her.

Equally important to the T-850’s mission is Katherine Brewster (Claire Danes). Aside from being the daughter of a General, Kate is destined to become the wife of John Connor, and second-in-command of the Resistance. She’s the one who will reprogram the T-850 and send it back through time. As much as John must survive, so must Kate. Just like John’s mother was a lowly waitress before the Terminator began stalking her, Kate is a veterinarian. But it’s her family’s military background that lets us know that, although Terminators can still toss her around like a rag doll, Kate is strong-willed right from the start. Kate Brewster has been my favorite part of “Terminator 3” since I saw it theatrically back in 2003. John is the first to point out, and I agree… she is very similar to his mother.

By this point, you may be asking, “If Judgment Day has been prevented, why do Terminators still exist?” Time travel paradoxes and all that. Well, that’s because it wasn’t prevented, this movie tells us, only postponed. In fact, it’s only hours away. Naturally, that’s not the best piece of news which John and Kate could have received, but it does provide a sense of urgency. Can Judgment Day be stopped? Not so, says the T-850, but John refuses to believe that. If he can prevent three billion human deaths, damnit, he’s going to try!

So far so good, but “Terminator 3” does take a few missteps. The first is a nitpick, one that I don’t usually try to make but had to because we’re talking about a story which involves time travel. Can we please, for goodness sake, pay attention to dates and times established by the previous films? Overlooked/retconned is John’s age at the time of “Terminator 2.” In the opening monologue he mentions having been thirteen, and later references are made by Kate to having gone to school with him in junior high, until that one day (in T2) when he simply vanished. We’re expected to buy this, despite the previous films establishing the time of the first “Terminator” as 1984, and John’s date of birth being revealed in “Terminator 2” as having been 2/28/85. For that to still jive AND for him to have been thirteen when the T-1000 tried to kill him, the year would have to have been 1998, one year after the original date of Judgment Day, which wasn’t “prevented” until the film’s climax. Long story short, I call bullshit.

My second gripe is the movie’s overall length. At 1 hour and 49 minutes, “Terminator 3” stands as the shortest film in the series, and it shows. More than a half-hour shorter than its immediate predecessor,  the brisk pacing of “Terminator 3” does not allow much room for the human story that was so vital to each of the first two “Terminators.” The T-X is also a casualty of the running time. In each of the previous installments, time was taken to carefully build the villain as an ominous threat. Here, the T-X is both powerful and unrelenting as a Terminator should be, but because the focus of the film is on the imminent Judgment Day and not on John and Kate surviving the T-X’s attack, she becomes less memorable as a result.

The other problem I have with this movie is the same one I had with “Terminator 2”: the humor. The difference here is that it’s moved to the foreground, at times turning what should be as much or more of a serious story than the others into an action-comedy. By this time, a pattern has formed in the way that “Terminator” movies play out. Action sequences, if not copied outright, are at least followed so closely as to make them recognizable. Worst of all are the one-liners. I hate when sequels repeat the favorite lines of the original out of context. But the “Terminator” franchise insists on keeping iterations of “I’ll be back,” “Get out” and “Come with me if you want to live” around all for the sake of a chuckle from members of the audience, including in the forthcoming “Terminator Genisys” if the trailers are any indication. *Sigh*

What would otherwise be a mediocre “Terminator” movie and an “okay” action movie is rescued somewhat by its ballsy ending. You have an indication all the way through that it’s headed in this direction, but it is nice to see the writers not getting squeamish, going for broke, and taking us all the way. So, this wasn’t the ultimate train wreck that certain other third entries have been (“Alien 3,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Spider-Man 3,” etc.), yet it had the potential to be so much more. We would have to wait another six years to see if the franchise would make any upgrades, or if we simply had another Windows Vista on our hands.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I’m not a big fan of T1 and T2, and I haven’t seen T3. However, I enjoyed your review, and I think I might watch it just for Claire Danes.

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