Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (United States, 2003)
Terminator 3 is the summer movie of 2003 that hard-core action fans have been awaiting. It's not ponderous and incomplete like The Matrix Reloaded. It's not steeped in characterization and modern-day mythology like Hulk. And it's not vapid and flashy like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Bad Boys 2. Instead, it's a relatively straightforward science fiction adventure film - just what movie-goers expect from a third outing with Arnold Schwarzenegger's cybernetic alter-ego.
The movie is not weighted down by plot, but it does have a recognizable storyline featuring legitimate characters and a few nice (but minor) twists. Some degree of attention is helpful - Terminator 3 is not an intellectual challenge, but neither is it vacuous. The film has plenty of action sequences, some of which are spectacular. Director Jonathan Mostow has wisely not relied too much on computer graphics for these. A fair amount of stunt work was required, and the computer components are incorporated seamlessly. Additionally, Mostow does not play the game of cutting every second or so, and the music never upstages the visuals. Terminator 3 gets the most bang for its buck by letting the camera linger on the spectacle, and allowing tension, not flashiness, to be its hallmark.
It's 10 years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and, in the decade since we last entered this universe, Sarah Connor has died of leukemia and her son, John (Nick Stahl), has become a recluse. Even though he and his mother supposedly averted the nuclear war that would devastate the planet and allow the machines to take over, a part of him doubts that the future is secure. That uncertainty bears fruit when an unstoppable Termanatrix, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), enters the early 21st century on a mission to kill John and one of his lieutenants, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Following the T-X through the portal is the reliable, obsolete T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), sent to protect John and Kate. Eventually, the human targets end up on the run from the T-X. Their goal is the same as it was in Terminator 2: avert a nuclear catastrophe. But this time, the odds are even more heavily stacked against them and time is not on their side.
If you take a step back and examine Terminator 3 from a distance, it bears all the characteristics of a road movie. Strip away the action sequences and the science fiction/time travel veneer, and that's what's left. But, since the average road movie is terminally boring, Mostow provides plenty of pyrotechnics along the way. Terminator 3 is a closer cousin to Terminator 2 than it is to the original. Like the first sequel, this movie is more concerned with elevating the pulse than stimulating the mind. There was plenty of action in The Terminator, but that movie was founded on ideas and paradoxes. In Terminator 2 and Terminator 3, the thought-provoking skeleton is still in place, but a much greater importance has been placed on the visceral impact.
Arnold Schwarzenegger effortlessly slides into the role that made him a superstar. Depending on where his political aspirations take him, this could either be a comeback or farewell. Either way, this performance reminds us why, for all of his acting limitations, no one was a bigger action star during the '80s (not even Stallone). Schwarzenegger has charisma and screen presence. Watching him here, it's hard to believe that he's in his 50s. And, after several duds (the most recent of which was Collateral Damage), it's nice to see him finally back in form.
Kristanna Loken plays Terminator 3's version of Robert Patrick's Terminator 2 villain, with a few new enhancements added. Like Patrick, Loken brings an icy cool to the part. The difference is, of course, that Loken has a lot more sex appeal than Patrick. Nick Stahl replaces Edward Furlong as John Connor. Stahl is a capable actor (note his work in In the Bedroom) and more than able to make us sympathetic to John's plight. Claire Danes provides the female muscle power (essentially replacing Linda Hamilton), while injecting a little romance
Terminator 3 has a number of impressive action sequences, including one that features two crashing helicopters and another in which the T-101 and T-X go at it, one-on-one. But none is more impressive than the crane chase, where the world's largest crane goes crashing through everything in its path in an out-of-control attempt to (literally) run down John and Kate. (When Warner Brothers became skittish about budgetary issues, Schwarzenegger chipped in $1.6 million to allow the sequence to be finished.) It's hard to say which is the summer's best chase: this one or the equally spectacular one in The Matrix Reloaded.
Will there be a Terminator 4? The ending allows for one, and parts of the story have yet to be told. But, from an action standpoint, is there any way that way that a fourth picture could be anything other than a re-hash of its predecessors? And can the franchise succeed without its star (who, barring a failure to gain political office, will not be interested)? Those are questions for the future. However, considering how well Terminator 3 is likely to fare at the box office, the future won't be that far away. It has taken a long time to get Terminator 3 to the screen, and, while the production doesn't rock the action motion picture industry to its foundation, it's a credible and entertaining movie, and was worth the wait.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (United States, 2003)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews
Screenplay: John Brancato & Michael Ferris
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
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