Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) Review

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Dumb it down if you want it to live

Oh, how the times have changed. I once noted in my Alien Resurrection review that I had once liked the movie, but have since matured and realized that it has more problems than I had remembered. Now I’m here reviewing Terminator 3, a movie I once blocked from my mind because I was so frustrated with it (I actually wrote a review a while back, but chose not to publish it because it was so venomous and one-sided towards the movie), which is actually not as bad as I remembered. It’s funny how someone’s perceptions on a movie can change so much over time.

Plot Synopsis: It is the year 2004, and John Connor has been living off the grid since the events of the second movie. The bombs didn’t drop, Judgment Day didn’t occur, but John has still been skeptical and paranoid after his mother, Sarah, died of leukemia. While looking for a quick drug fix at a veterinary hospital, he runs into Kate Brewster, an old acquaintance from school who may have a more prominent role in the future than John realizes. However, we soon see the arrival of two terminators that are sent back from the future. One is the T-X, Skynets newest and most powerful model that can control other machines and change her appearance, sent to hunt John and his future lieutenants. Another is the familiar T-800, sent back to protect John and Kate from the far superior and more powerful T-X.


So what has improved with age? Well, the change in the series’ themes isn’t so appalling as it once was. The first two Terminator’s were built around themes of free will and the ability to change the future, exemplified by the line “No Fate But What We Make”, something that Terminator 3 dispels entirely and which now follows themes of fate and pre-determined destiny. The change is still distracting and frustrating, but I can at least appreciate that writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris wanted to try something new, even if I don’t really approve of it. Even though the movie has a much more downbeat feel with a rather disappointing ending, there is much more humor, too much in fact, than seen previously. One-liners are thrown out more frequently, and the terminators have some nonsensically emotional moments (such as the T-X’s “orgasm”).

What Brancato and Ferris fall short on, something that the first two movies excelled at, is character development. Aside from a few quick moments, the film rarely stops the action to really delve into the characters. John and Kate’s relationship doesn’t really advance much by the end, and it is never really explained why John is so down on himself even though Judgment Day never occurred. Still, Nick Stahl does an admirable job playing John and handles the material well. Claire Danes, playing Kate, also gives a good performance and even gets a few chances to fight back and toughen up by the climax. Of course, this isn’t a Terminator movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold is basically playing the same role he had in Terminator 2, but that’s not much of a negative thing as he handles the unnecessary comedic elements well without embarrassing himself. As for Kristanna Loken, well she’s no Arnold or Robert Patrick, but her T-X is a refreshing change of pace from the mostly male centric terminators. Some of her abilities are also really cool to watch, such as the way she reconfigures herself when Arnold has her held down tight.

But the real reasons the movie is saved from being a true disappointment are the action scenes that director Jonathon Mostow has conjured up. The crane truck chase is the big winner here, rivaling the intense sewer chase in Terminator 2, and creates an impressive array of destruction that ends on a hugely satisfying note (I wonder if The Dark Knight took some inspiration from the end of it?). Mostow also has some fun with the new terminators, not just the T-X, which include the just created T-1s and Hunter Killers. The T-1s are put to great use when we see them roaming the Skynet base and tearing through the entire human staff. He gets the feel of the action right too, injecting some needed suspense before finally letting loose and modeling the action as one long chase much like the first Terminator. One thing a Terminator movie needs to succeed with is the action, and Mostow doesn’t disappoint.

The largest hurdle that the film must overcome is the finality of Terminator 2, which seemed to close the book on the storyline by ending on a high note. Cyberdyne, the terminator computer chip, and the terminator arm had all been destroyed by the ending and Judgment Day seemed to have been completely averted. We do learn that Skynet had been bought out by the air force after Cyberdyne went bankrupt, but it is never really explained why Judgment Day has merely been postponed. Still, I found Terminator 3 to be an entertaining movie that had some great action scenes, but not much else.


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