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
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
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.