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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/02/2003

There were many reasons to be worried about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  The age of Arnie, the absence of James Cameron, and the replacement of the actors playing key characters were possible problems.  Despite a few logic problems, the third movie isn’t half bad, though it doesn’t quite measure up to the first two.


Almost a decade after the events of the second movie (which means that this movie takes place in the year 2000 I guess, unless T2 took place in 1994, I don’t know…), the machine bad guys try a third time to kill the leader of the human resistance movement, John Connor.  It’s a little more complicated this time around, because the now 22-year-old John (Nick Stahl) has taken himself “off the grid,” meaning he has kept himself out of all records, including no driver’s licenses, no home, no job, etc.  The machines decide instead to kill all of John’s lieutenants, which includes veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes.)  After killing the first few, the machines’ more advanced terminator unit, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), heads for Kate’s clinic.  In a weird coincidence, John happens to be there, because he’s now a junkie and has broken into the clinic to steal drugs.  In another coincidence, Kate is there, because she got a call to help the cat of a woman named Betsy (Moira Harris.)  The T-X is similar to the T-1000 from the second movie in most ways, but now looks like an anatomically correct woman, and can take the shape of anything she touches (well, I guess the T-1000 could do that too), control any machine, and has a multipurpose right hand that can saw through stuff, shoot fire, etc.  The human resistance apparently only has one model, because they have once again sent the older terminator unit, the T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), back in time to the present to protect John and Kate from the T-X (actually I got the older model name from the movie’s production notes.  I’ve also heard that the model is called the T1 and the T-800, so once again I don’t know…)  After a narrow escape from the clinic (which resulted in the death of Betsy), the T-101 takes them on the road towards a safe house.  The T-X now knows that John is still alive and focuses on assassinating both John and Kate.  Kate has a hard time accepting that she is a key figure in the human resistance movement, since she is just a regular vet who is engaged to a man named Scott Mason (Mark Famiglietti.)  She starts to realize her importance when she learns her father, Robert Brewster (David Andrews), the head of a computer organization called SkyNet, is the one responsible for accidentally starting a nuclear war.  They realize that they need to reach him and stop him from setting the events in motion that will start the war.  Along the way, they find out more about their pasts (like when John and Kate first met, and what happened to John’s mother, Sarah) and their futures (their roles in the upcoming war.)  All the while, the T-X is following them, and she will not be stopped, until John and Kate are dead.


Let’s get all of the problems out of the way first.  Arnold is the only cast member from the previous Terminator movies to be involved in this one (besides a brief cameo by Earl Boen, who reprises his role as Dr. Peter Silberman.)  Some people have expressed concern that the 55-year-old actor might be too old to play the cyborg again.  While I think he might be too old if they decide to make a fourth film (and they definitely leave that door open in the end for that possiblity), he doesn’t look that bad in this one.  I did not miss the absence of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor or Edward Furlong as John Connor, since they wrote Sarah out in a convincing way, and any talented actor could play John, since he was no longer that 13-year-old boy anymore (and Stahl did an effective job.)  Cameron was the one I was most concerned about, but the new director, Jonathan Mostow, the director of the submarine movie U-571 (which I hated) and the kidnapping action movie Breakdown (which I loved), did an okay job, especially in the action sequences.  The biggest problem I had with the movie was the story, or the lack thereof.  Clocking in at a scant one hour and fifty minutes, the movie was too short to fully flesh out the story.  I don’t know if they were concerned about the budget or the attention spans of the audience, but I felt like a lot of questions were left unanswered.  How did John become a junkie?  Why did they make it nine years later instead of twelve?  I have a few more unanswered questions I would ask right now, but they would spoil the movie.


Before you start getting the idea that I hated the movie, let me assure you, I didn’t.  It was fast-paced and entertaining.  In a small nod to one of my favorite Arnie movies, Last Action Hero (I know, I’m the only one who liked it), the movie pokes fun occasionally at the famous aspects of the first two Terminator movies.  From making fun of the catchphrases (“I’ll be back,” “Hasta la vista, baby”) to the naked cyborg taking someone’s clothes, there are many light moments.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines has the unfortunate stigma of having nowhere to go but sideways.  The Matrix Reloaded faced that same problem.  Both The Matrix and Terminator 2: Judgment Day were such revolutionary films special effects-wise that their sequels could only match them at best.  The thing that has always set the Terminator movies apart for me from every other Arnie movie was the inclusion of a continuous storyline.  While this third one may have a few holes in it, I would welcome a fourth film.  Like the rumors about the fourth Indiana Jones movie, I hope they find a way for Arnie to pass the torch onto a younger actor, so the series can continue and we won’t have to see an 80-year-old Austrian attempting to save the future.


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