Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review
By Joe Lozito
If anyone were going to play a cyborg from the future in a trilogy spanning two decades, I'm glad it's Arnold Schwarzenegger. The man is a rock. Somehow, at 55, he looks like the same Terminator who first appeared out of a temporal disco ball in James Cameron's 1984 sci-fi classic. That, above all else, ties this trilogy together with a sense of comfort and consistency that makes the third installment curiously watchable even while it cannot possibly live up to Cameron's 1991 "Terminator 2: Judgment Day". When "T2" came out, it not only had the cult cachet of the original, but it had a huge budget and groundbreaking special effects (most notably, Robert Patrick's "liquid metal" T-1000). In the years after the original, Cameron honed his skills as a crowd pleasing sci-fi writer/director with "Aliens" and "The Abyss" and turned his newly-acquired clout back onto the story that made him, somehow improving on the original.
Without Cameron involved, though, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" starts out with one strike. Without Linda Hamilton as beleaguered heroine Sarah Connor, or even Edward Furlong to reprise his role as humanity's savior John Connor, it would seem that "T3" is an ill-advised venture. And to some extent it is. There is nothing really original in the film. The new Terminator, the "T-X", is made of the same "polymemetic alloy" that made the T-1000 so memorable (and indestructible). But aside from being female there is little more to her. She can control other machines and, in a silly moment of cultural winking, can interface via phone by emitting that familiar modem sound from her mouth. Even the fact that she is a model (in the form of Kristanna Loken, vacant but with none of Patrick's menace) is not used to great effect.
Of course, there is a lot of destruction. Mayhem might be a better word. Terminators seem to have a knack for picking the largest possible vehicles to chase their prey. "T3" features a giant crane, a firetruck, an RV and multiple helicopters in its pursuit of John Connor (the role is assumed ably by Nick Stahl) and his will-be wife Kate Brewster (Claire Danes, lip aquiver as she processes each development of the script). Obviously this franchise has never been concerned about the space-time continuum, but I find it hard to believe that, with all the carnage these machines create, they never accidentally kill anyone who has any affect on the future. Are John and Kate the only ones who make a difference? Judging by the film's interesting if somewhat hokey ending (which I won't go into here), the answer's yes.
Once the Terminators appear and, in scenes which have become rote at this point, acquire clothes and cars, the film is basically one big chase scene. The script, by John Brancato and Michael Ferris ("The Game", "The Net"), keeps the action coming, only stopping occasionally to steamroll over some plot holes or, in my favorite moment, to create convenient character traits ("That my father's plane, I trained on it!"). Unfortunately, there is just no arguing that the premise is wearing thin. If the computers of the future can send cyborgs back in time to kill humans, how do they find out that their previous attempts have failed? And why do they make other attempts years later rather than years earlier? Go after John Connor's grandfather or great grandfather rather than John as a grown man who can pretty much take care of himself.
Director Jonathan Mostow is no James Cameron. That's not necessarily an insult. His 1997 film "Breakdown" was a taut, suspense yarn, and 2000's "U-571" tried to be a good old-fashioned submarine picture. The "Terminator" series requires something more though - something borne out of the lunatic mind of the man who would be King of the World. Mostow doesn't have Cameron's gift for an action scene, nor is he given a plot with the depth and texture of the previous two installments.
Thankfully, there is always Arnold. If "T3" proves nothing else, it is that Arnold still works best when he plays a machine. As the T-101 (inexplicably renumbered from T-800), he is ironically the one character we care about and look to for a reliable one liner. While "T3" may be only adequate as a "Terminator" entry, it's still a good action movie, and a logical comeback play for our beloved hero who, of late, has lost his way in the action arena (witness "End of Days" and the ill-timed "Collateral Damage"). I guess he always said he'd be back.