Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer School: 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' (2003)

With so many summer franchises returning this year, I'm catching up on previous installments.

When Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out in 2003, I was probably the last person who'd be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, thanks to my strong attachment to Terminator 2. But I remember being pleasantly surprised with the third movie, enjoying it in spite of myself and writing a mostly positive review. Coming back to it all these years later, I once again had a pretty good time, even if the third entry doesn't come close to the heights of the first two movies in the series. The grand scope and deep resonance that James Cameron created in T2 is absent here, despite a story that once again focuses on the prevention of Judgment Day and features John Connor teamed with a reformed Terminator and a strong woman who is essential to his future development as a leader.

It's not until the very end that T3 packs anything close to the gut punch of T2, and I still marvel at the way such a bleak ending made its way into a huge mainstream Hollywood franchise blockbuster. (Of course, it then paved the way for the worst movie in the series, but let's table that for now.) Before that ending, T3 is mostly just a fun action movie, which is only disappointing in comparison with the movies that preceded it. It features the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, although unlike T2 it doesn't really offer a twist on his character (he's a different Terminator, but he's still programmed to protect John, just like last time). It's mainly an opportunity for Schwarzenegger to deliver one-liners and be an action badass, which he's very good at (although the one-liners are often lame).

Nick Stahl follows Edward Furlong's lead in making John whiny and petulant, and once again the woman in his life seems like a much better prospect for the savior of humanity. Since Linda Hamilton declined to return (Sarah is killed offscreen, of leukemia), that woman is Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), John's destined future wife. The fated romance is played down, though, in favor of the relentless action, as Kate quickly proves capable of keeping up with the chaos. Danes is a great actress, but this isn't her best work, and she's never really more than a second-rate Sarah Connor.

Also sort of second-rate is Kristanna Loken as the new evil Terminator, the T-X, which is not as much of a radical step forward as the T-1000, and basically behaves the same way. Loken, like Robert Patrick in T2, plays the T-X as a cold, relentless predator, but she's not quite as menacing. Making the character female opens up a lot of possibilities, but the filmmakers mostly opt for easy jokes instead. Still, the T-X is dangerous enough to feel like a real threat, especially as Schwarzenegger's T-800 is noted as an outdated model (a nod to Schwarzenegger's own aging, perhaps).

Director Jonathan Mostow is no James Cameron, but he does a good job of moving things along, and he stages one particularly awesome chase sequence that keeps getting crazier and crazier as it goes along. T3 is solid popcorn entertainment, and with the original series visionary gone, I think that's pretty much the most anyone can hope for out of a Terminator movie.

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