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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Reviewed by Shane Ivey, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Jonathan Mostow (director), John Brancato and Michael Ferris (writers)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   July 2003
Review Date:   July 13, 2003
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

For a movie that never should have been made, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is not too bad.

I know, I know: Hollywood lives by the law of supply and demand. Terminator and Terminator 2 grossed slightly more money than a year of diamond mines; that's the demand. Never mind rabid fans holding on to the experience of James Cameron's last thrill of 1980s sci-fi brilliance (the man who brought us Terminator, T2, Aliens, and The Abyss would soon enough head off to more respectable fields and somehow make even more money with Titanic); never mind critics who question the odds of a successful follow-up when just about everyone associated with the first two movies couldn't be brought back (except Schwarzenegger, of course -- he told us he'd be back, and he meant it). Forget all that. The Terminator movies made coin. That made T3 a risk worth bankrolling.

But I'm not a Hollywood studio. I'm one of the crowd you're supposed to forget. Heck, I'm in both crowds: I'm a rabid fan of Terminator and T2, and a critic who was skeptical about the whole idea of T3.

And yet T3 isn't too shabby. Go figure.

Terminator 2 took place about 15 years after The Terminator, more or less (I won't get into the weird dating of that movie). T3 takes place 10-15 years after T2. Former juvenile delinquent and future resistance leader John Connor (Nick Stahl this time, not Edward Furlong) is a drifter, living "off the grid" as he puts it to avoid being tracked by government databases that he fears might eventually be used by the deadly artificial intelligence program Skynet to track him down. As far as he can tell, he and his mother apparently changed the timeline by destroying the artifact that would lead to Skynet's creation; but he can't be sure. So he lives on the run.

Then a new Terminator robot appears, sent from the future to murder him and all the young men and women who would someday be his lieutenants. And another friendly Terminator appears (Arnold), same make and model as the one that saved his life before (if a little more leathery in the face). And then he's on the run again, this time with a girl he knew from childhood (Claire Danes), now grown up and engaged to somebody else, and she's on the machines' hit list, too. As is her father -- the Air Force general (David Andrews) in charge of developing the new artificial intelligence defense system called Skynet. Enough dialog; time for the chase!

All the Terminator fighting -- big guns, bullets bouncing off fake robot skin and uncovering the metal underneath, impossibly strong hands bending steel, and so on -- can I call it T-fu? -- feels a little played out in T3, as we were afraid it would. There are some interesting variations here and there, and the action is pretty fun, but it doesn't have that impact of novelty that Terminator and T2 delivered.

The new Terminator assassin (Kristanna Loken) is a hot young blonde Terminatrix who can change her outer form and has built-in flamethrowers and rockets. She's allegedly another quantum leap in design up from the "liquid metal" Terminator of T2, just as he was a step up from the Arnold version of The Terminator; but even with all the fire and explosions she just can't match the menace exuded by Arnold in 1984 and Robert Patrick in 1991. And it's not a female thing; who wasn't a little scared by Linda Hamilton as crazy, beautiful, homicidal Sarah Connor in T2? The Terminatrix is just too cute and perky to really be scary, no matter how many torsos she impales.

So how does it wind up being pretty good, after all? What makes this movie is the ending. I won't give anything away; but I was surprised to be going, "Daaamn...." right before the credits rolled. It was very, very, un-Hollywood. And in a movie that started out nothing but Hollywood, that's a heck of a nice surprise.

Shane Ivey is editor and web developer for RevolutionSF.

 
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