Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (2003)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Claire Danes and Nick Stahl
Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Rated R - Strong sci-fi violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 109 minutes

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines [Blu-ray]Arnold Schwarzenegger returns after a decade to the world of James Cameron's "Terminator."  The year is now 2003, John Connor (Nick Stahl) lives a life of isolation.  He has no phone, no address, no way of being tracked.  One night after crashing his motorcycle, he breaks into a veterinary clinic to steal medicine and fix his wounded leg.  There he encounters Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a girl he knew in junior high school.

Unfortunately for John and Kate, a new Terminator has arrived in the present, once again sent by the evil computer intelligence known as Skynet.  This time, the female T-X (Kristanna Loken) has been sent to eliminate other key members of the human resistance besides John.  She goes on a killing spree, but ultimately locates John and Kate in the clinic.  Luckily, the resistance has once again managed to send a reprogrammed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect John and Kate. 

Elsewhere, a computer virus is wreaking havoc with the world's digital systems and networks.  Kate's father Robert (David Andrews), in charge of the Skynet Project for the US Air Force, must decide whether to use the advanced new AI to seek out and destroy the virus.  When John learns that Kate's father is in charge of the infant Skynet, he concocts a plan to stop the war between humans and machines before it begins... once and for all.

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is, unlike its predecessors, not a great film.  Though visually impressive and featuring several great chases and fights, the whole effort is marred by a jokey, unimpressive script.  A huge part of the problem is that it once again borrows its entire plot from the two previous movies - A Terminator and a protector are sent back through time to kill John Connor in the past.  While it was forgivable in the second film because, well, it was just a great film, it's really not here.  It's grown past tired, and the film doesn't do anything to try and mitigate the fact that it's essentially just another remake of the same story.

Worse, the script is full of one-liners and jokes, too many of which are spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  This leads to a film that's wildly inconsistent in tone, lurching back and forth between trying to be a serious sci-fi action picture like its predecessors and light summer blockbuster fare, despite its R rating.  For example, in the previous films, when Schwarzenegger's Terminator appeared naked in the present, it would kill or assault someone for their clothes.  In this film, it finds itself in a strip club on ladies night and ends up taking the clothes of a male stripper - including star-shaped pink sunglasses.  Ugh.  At another point, Schwarzenegger actually tells a store clerk to "talk to the hand."  Double ugh.

"Terminator 3" also inverts the series' previous theme, that of being able to change the future.  "No fate but what we make for ourselves," we were told before.  Here, things are inevitable - they can be delayed, even changed, but you cannot escape your destiny.  It's kind of annoying and disrespectful to the previous films, but at some point, you can't really keep doing sequels with that them, can you?

Still, "Terminator 3" features some impressive visual effects work, and the action sequences are well-staged and entertaining.  A centerpiece fight between the Terminator and the T-X in an Air Force base bathroom is pretty awesome, and a great use of the potential of the characters.  An opening chase sequence involving police cars, fire trucks and a crane is also a lot of fun.

I have to give credit where it's due, however - "Terminator 3" has a great ending.  It's pretty impressive that after such a limp two hours preceding, the film has the balls to end on such a downer.  If "Terminator 3" is notable for one thing, it's that cool ending as the bombs begin to fall.

So while I can't recommend "Terminator 3" as heartily as I can the two previous films, I think it's still worth watching just for the action sequences and the ending.  The rest of it is pretty disposable, though.

See Also
The Terminator
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator Salvation