Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2004) Movie Review

If 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” proves anything, it’s that James Cameron was way ahead of the curve in 1991, when he stormed into theaters with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. Twelve years later, “T3” is still employing nearly all of the CGI advancements that Cameron pioneered way back then. Of course there are other CGI effects this time around, most notably the human-to-CGI transformation used in the bathroom rumble sequence. But for the most part, “T3” looks like it could have come off the assembly line in 1992.

This time around John Connor (Nick Stahl) is a 20-something loner, a pill-popping loser who has no legal status. After a bike accident sends him to raid a pet clinic for drugs, John runs into Kate (Claire Danes), a veterinarian. As it turns out, Kate and John are old friends, and once even had a make-out session 12 years ago, exactly one day before the events of “T2”. Now engaged to be married, Kate’s life is turned upside down when a new, more powerful Terminator, the T-X (Kristanna Loken) is sent back in time to finish off a hit list — and Kate’s name is on it. (The T-X wasn’t sent back to kill John Connor this time because the machines, in the future, doesn’t know John’s location thanks to his vagrant-like status. Stumbling onto John, then, is a stroke of near euphoria for the emotionless machine.)

Once again sent to back in time to ensure John’s survival is the T-101 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who we learn is not the same model that saved John in 1991. This Terminator doesn’t know John, and in an inspired moment of exposition, John inquires about the Terminator’s identity, and learns that the T-101 are assembly line Terminators, which is why they have the same face, build, etc. With Kate and John in tow, the Terminator goes on the run from the murderous T-X, who besides having the ability to remotely control machines, also has an arm that can morph into a super duper cannon. What you need to know is that “T3” has nearly the exact same narrative structure as “T2”. This may give some viewers, as it did me, a sense of d’jà vu.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, now in his ’50s, steps back into the role that made him an international star with the grace and pectorals of the Arnold of old. Which is to say the guy was born to play this role. The script even makes use of Arnold’s age, pointing out his character’s obsolete nature. Ex-model Kristanna Loken plays the T-X with the same intensity and lack of personality as Robert Patrick did in “T2”. And like Patrick’s Terminator, the lack of personality, a very human characteristic, is easy to accept in Loken. While Loken may not look fierce, the fact that this woman (and not just a woman, but a thin and fragile-looking supermodel-type) keeps on coming and coming and coming, makes her all the more ferocious. Loken is excellent in the role, and the fact that she is drop dead gorgeous doesn’t hurt.

The introduction of Claire Danes’ Kate is a great plus, and she’s more than just a replacement for Sarah Connor (who we learn has died). Having gone through the events of “T2”, John can’t be expected to still show shock at the sight of the Terminators, hence Kate is useful for the “Oh God I can’t believe this is happening” reactions. Danes does quite well and her entry into the franchise doesn’t seem superfluous at all, especially when the Terminator reveals how Kate figures into the future timeline. In those regards, the raison d’être of the Kate character is perfectly acceptable.

This time around Skynet, the computer responsible for the nuclear war, has already begun taking control of the world’s computers. As the movie opens, Skynet is everywhere and getting stronger. Its creation is tied in to a military project involving super computers, and the idiots in charge are giving the self-aware program even more control of their nuclear arsenals. Morons.

As expected, “T3” is chock full of elaborate action sequences. In one 10-minute span, I swear director Jonathan Mostow (“U-571”) engineered the destruction of nearly half of Los Angeles. In another sequence, the T-101 goes mano-a-mano with the T-X in a bathroom; the scene puts to shame Arnold’s last fight in a bathroom, in “True Lies”. Action junkies will be blown away by the spectacle of “T3”, and will probably not be bothered by the fact that the sequence of action seems to follow Cameron’s “T2” just a bit too closely.

Here’s a final note to the filmmakers of “Terminator 4” (which is guaranteed, judging by the conclusion of “T3”): Don’t save the Terminator theme music for the final credits; for God’s sake, it’s one of the most recognizable piece of music in all of cinema. People like hearing it so that means you should play it more than once.

Jonathan Mostow (director) / Tedi Sarafian, John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris (screenplay)
CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger …. Terminator
Nick Stahl …. John Connor
Claire Danes …. Kate Brewster
Kristanna Loken …. T-X
David Andrews …. Robert Brewster

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