From the Archive – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Terminator-3

Directed by John Mostow
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Clare Danes and Kristanna Loken

So, in 1984 a cyborg was sent back in time to assassinate a waitress named Sarah Connor before she could give birth to her son John, the man who would lead the human race to victory against intelligent machines of its own creation. But – and this was the clever bit – the humans sent back a soldier named Reese to protect her, who ended up fathering John, as John, something of a father figure to Reese, always knew he would. The future cannot be changed, you see, because for those trying to change it it has already happened, including their intervention.

In 1991 a second cyborg was sent back to kill John as a young boy. This time the defender was an older model of cyborg, because Arnie was a big star playing heroes now. With the aid of the good Terminator, Sarah and John stopped the machines ever being created. You see, the future can be changed because it is not written.

But now another machine has come back, a foxy female ‘Terminatrix’ with a taste for fast cars and leather. With John Connor an untraceable cypher in the system, she goes after his support crew, including future wife – I apologise if you think this is spoilery, but seriously; duh –  Kate Brewster. Another T101 is sent to protect John and Kate, with the twist…Well, I’ll leave this unspoilered since it’s the movie’s one good idea. Anyway, car chases and gunfights, then John and Kate try to stop Kate’s father allowing Skynet to take over the world, because you see the future can only be delayed. Events can be changed, but some inexorable force of fate exists that brings on Judgement Day and draws Kate and John together.

Judgement falls, and the once-doubtful John steps up to the plate swinging. It’s all kinda uplifting.

Okay, the issues with the schitzophrenic nature of time travel now dealt with, I shall leave them aside and judge the film on its other merits or lack thereof.

What’s wrong with it?

T3’s problems are many, but first of all it’s redundant. The need for Terminator 2 was questionable; sure the end of Terminator was dark, but it was supposed to be. Nevertheless, T2 picked up the story, took it in new directions, and did something new; mostly – as noted – by reversing the central conceit. With T2 over, the story felt even more closed than before, and the only real reason to make T3 is to make money. The fact that of the central participants in the first two movies only Arnie was on board for this one suggests it might also be an ego thing.

Next up is Sarah Connor, dead these five years of leukaemia. Save the world, die of leukaemia; great. Right up there with survive the nest of aliens only to die in a shoddily-built Marine strike vessel.

Poor bloody Newt. What is it about women who survive James Cameron films and are felt redundant for the sequel that they have to die?

But I digress. The point is that, even if you feel this is no longer Sarah’s story, she deserves better than to have died offscreen of cancer. And don’t tell me the world isn’t fair; this is a movie, and dramatic rules should apply. She at least deserves to die on Judgement Day doing something meaningful. To me, they were clearly just pissed at Linda Hamilton for not doing the movie.

T3 lacks structure. It’s essentially a sequence of chase and fight sequences, strung together without a coherent arc to support and bind them together, with the result that the film does not really stick in the mind. Good thing, too, since it doesn’t hold up to too much consideration. If you stop to think you really start to wonder – for example – how a veterinarian, a delinquent-looking fugitive from justice with no official existence and a heavily-armed Austrian with metal showing through the skin of his face manage to not only gain swift and easy access to a top-secret, maximum security military research facility, but manage to show up unheralded in the nerve centre of the operation with a shotgun.

The main characters manage to be likeable, if not particularly engaging, and you kind of care about them. The incidentals are a different matter however and whether it’s a directorial issue or just changing times, in Terminator and even T2 you felt something for the poor schmucks who get wasted during the Terminator’s hunt for it’s true quarry. In this film, you couldn’t care less about the schlubs who might have grown up to be John Connor’s inner circle, in part because they’re such a pack of losers that you just know they’d grow up to be the whiney anime heroes with entitlement issues.

What’s right with it?

Redundant or not, T3 does manage a different take on the time-travel plot with its quasi-religious overwhelming destiny notions. As noted above, the characters are fairly sympathetic for this genre, perhaps because Arnie is the focus of the crass machismo. And okay, I kind of felt for the poor woman with Munchausen’s syndrome by kitty.

Oh yeah, and the special effects are pretty goddamn good.

How bad is it really?

T3 is the ultimate candyfloss movie. Good enough while it lasts, but no real substance and swiftly forgotten. It’s a fun movie and not a complete waste of time if you don’t want anything earth-shattering.

Best bit?

When Kate briefly escapes her strange captors she is introduced to post-trauma councillor Dr Silberman, another hold-over from both previous movies. When she tells him ‘he wasn’t human’, Silberman assures her that he’s been in hostage situations himself. He then goes distant and strange as he explains how they make you see things: “Crazy things. Impossible things.Insane things.”

What’s up with…?

  • The TX being able to control mechanical machines? I mean, I get it can monkey with electronics and computers, but how is it driving those cars?

  • Arnie and friends just strolling into a top-security base?

  • The TX expanding her breast size to distract a traffic cop? This is not a machine working through subtlety here. I mean, it’s not like she isn’t just going to kill him anyway; why bother trying anything else first?

  • Kate being able to command the Terminator, but it refusing to let her go?

Ratings

Production values: Top notch. Absolutely no complaints here. 0

Dialogue and performances: Actually fairly decent, although some of the jokes are a little flat. The TX lacks a little of Robert Patrick’s reptilian menace, but Arnie is right at home here. Stahl and Danes seem a little ill at ease, but do pretty well. 5

Plot and execution: Oh dear; and it was all going so well. This film doesn’t have a plot so much as it does a premise and some action scenes. It’s an extended chase, as are the other two Terminators, but more disjointed; less coherent. It also suffers from an error of conception, in that it never needed to be made at all -in as much as any movie needs to be made. 14

Randomness: Strange ramblings on destiny, lax security in the most sensitive government installations. Captain; there be randomness here. 15

Waste of potential: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand I didn’t expect too much, on the other I felt there was a better movie in there. I have to go to the middle ground I think. 10

Overall 44%

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