If 1984's low-budget "The Terminator" was like a pre-meal appetizer,
and 1991's visionary "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was reminiscent
of an extravagantly designed and garnished entr‚e, then "Terminator
3: Rise of the Machines" is the series' 12 oz. New York strip steak.
Without the participation of original filmmaker James Cameron, who
enlivened the previous installment with a scope, grandeur, and innovation
that had not yet been glimpsed on film at such a large scale before,
new director Jonathan Mostow (1997's "Breakdown") goes for something
grittier, to-the-point, more fast-paced, and not nearly as original.
Set ten years after "T2," 1997 has come and gone without the arrival
of the destined Judgment Day, and 23-year-old John Connor (Nick Stahl,
taking over for Edward Furlong) has become a reclusive drifter in
an attempt to thwart his fate as a soldier fighting for mankind's
survival. Then the Terminatrix, also known as the T-X (Kristanna Loken),
shows up on a mission to assassinate John and his as-yet-unknown future
wife/lieutenant, veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), on the
day Armageddon is scheduled to arrive. To protect John and Kate, the
now-obsolete T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent from the future,
a model that John remembers all too well but who, because it is simply
a replication of the robot from "T2," does not remember him.
At 108 minutes, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" clocks in a full
30 minutes shorter than "T2." The leaner running time proves to be
both a luxury and a hindrance--a luxury because the movie is tightly
edited and doesn't ever slow down long enough to start dragging, and
a hindrance because it lacks the depth and vision of the second picture,
and is too brief to be fully satisfying. The finale is the weakest
part of all, woefully anticlimactic and over before it has gotten
a chance to sure-footedly take off. In comparison, the final scenes
(everything following a key plot twist) is appropriately grim, courageous,
and fascinatingly unshakable. It also unsubtly sets up further sequels.
In all fairness, director Jonathan Mostow effortlessly takes over
the helm of the series with the same tone (serious and humanistic,
but not without its jokey side) of the previous films, and knows how
to set up and deliver slam-bang action sequences. A nearly ten-minute
chase scene involving a big-rig truck careening out of control on
the streets of Hollywood is the movie's easy centerpiece--more realistic
and practical from a special effects standpoint and every bit as breathtakingly
exciting as the highway chase in "The Matrix Reloaded." A hands-on
showdown between the nasty Terminatrix and the heroic T-101, both
of whom will stop at nothing to succeed at their respective missions,
comes in a close second for sheer technical craftsmanship.
At this point, Arnold Schwarzenegger (2002's "Collateral Damage")
could play the T-101 in his sleep and, despite a 12-year gap between
films in the series, the role fits like a snug glove. Then again,
the character is nothing more than a machine who is supposed to act
robotic, which is genuinely perfect for Schwarzenegger's abilities.
Although the talented Nick Stahl (2001's "In the Bedroom") is effective
as John Connor, original character inhabiter Edward Furlong is undeniably
missed. Stahl looks nothing like Furlong, and so it is difficult to
imagine him taking over in the same continuous role. With previous
series regular Linda Hamilton also nowhere to be found (her Sarah
Connor has died from Leukemia in the years since "T2"), there is somehow
a gap that remains unfilled from start to finish. Attempting to fill
in is the new strong-willed and fetching character of Kate Brewster,
played by the lovely Claire Danes (2002's "Igby Goes Down") in her
very first action role. She slides into the physicality and steep
demands of the genre with ease. Finally, newcomer Kristanna Loken
has got the icy stare and unstoppable quality of her villainous Terminatrix
down pat, but she lacks the full conviction of Robert Patrick's T-1000.
Whereas "T2: Judgment Day" introduced advanced CG effects (for its
time) that had never been done before onscreen, "Terminator 3" lacks
the imagination to take things any further than they did in 1991.
The visual effects here are often so convincing as to seamlessly blend
into the action with photorealism, but director Mostow remains unwilling
to take gambles or try anything different. Save for the choice final
scenes, the conventions of the premise are almost exactly the same
as in "T2." And the quick running time does not allow for relationships
to be effectively formed, such as the reunion of John and the T-101
model. For the most part, the movie is one long chase with critical
exposition dropped in from time to time.
As a hugely-budgeted summer action thrill ride, "Terminator 3: Rise
of the Machines" does its job and does it with efficiency, not demanding
any more from the viewer than to just sit and take in the sights,
sounds, and innumerable explosions. As a sequel to "T2: Judgment Day,"
however, the results are underwhelming and easily inferior--that James
Cameron classic was that rare example of a superbly realized and highly
original summer blockbuster, while "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"
is little more than a loud and kinetic action flick. Nonetheless,
from a pure visceral viewpoint, the movie delivers the goods fans
will likely be expecting. Just go in expecting a base hit, rather
than a full-blown home run.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman