Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines

Movie Information

Genre: Sci-Fi
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken
Rated: R

Well, if nothing else, at 109 minutes, T3 is a lot shorter than its immediate behemoth predecessor. I don’t even know that I think Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a lot worse than the first two films, but they were never my dish of tea to begin with. I can see, however, that T3 lacks the grittiness of the original and the scope of T2, being more of an attempt to repeat a successful formula than bringing anything new to the table.

And as such — and even with its $170 million budget T3 a case of the law of diminishing returns, not to mention the advancing age of its star. Yeah, Arnold looks pretty good for his years (at least they trimmed his eyebrows in between Collateral Damage and this), but the filmmakers were pushing things a bit all the same (it won’t be long before Arnold stars resembling the latter-day Jack LaLane hawking an exercise program).

There is, of course, still some logic in casting Arnold as a robot: It suits his dialogue, delivery and general demeanor. That said, the movie’s star — like the movie itself — seems to be trying too hard this time. His standard line delivery is awkward and stilted enough on the best of days; here he seems to be deliberately trying to sound like a machine, and the results are unconvincing, to say the least. Before we had a … well, limited actor who already sounded a good bit mechanical. Now we have what sounds too much like a bad actor trying to sound like a machine. The one-liners are more painful than amusing (“Talk to the hand”) and the set-ups for them are painfully obvious (“She’ll be back”).

T3 isn’t about to stray from the perceived formula for success. And in so doing, it’s probably going to go down pretty well with fans, though I doubt it will come anywhere near the phenomenon of the first two movies. It’s certainly not likely to make any converts.

The plot is essentially a variant on T2, with Ah-nold being sent from the future to protect John Connor (Nick Stahl replacing Edward Furlong) from the latest last word in Terminators, the Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken). The novelty this time is that the new model is female — augmenting the obligatory gratuitous Arnold au naturel scene with an even more gratuitous female one. (Except for showing Ms. Loken’s attributes, there is no logical reason for her to be strutting naked down the street when she lands in the present in a clothing store.)

The plot, of course, is just an excuse for millions of dollars of special effects and car crashes. And I suppose that on that score, you can’t say that the movie doesn’t deliver. At the same time, I can’t help but think that T3 suffers from the same kind of overkill that afflicted The Matrix Reloaded: After a time, what was impressive starts to become a little silly and then even funny. And as with Reloaded, it’s never entirely clear just how much of what’s happening on the screen is supposed to be funny.

I’m sure the image of Arnold wandering through a cemetery with a coffin full of heavy artillery is meant to be amusing, but I’m less certain that the big chase scene is. However, the latter ultimately seemed pretty funny to me, though that may be less the actual fault of the film than the result of my having sat through 20 or 30 not wholly dissimilar exercises in this kind of hyperkinetic excess.

What I’m really puzzled by here, though, is the unevenness of the effects work. Why shell out millions of bucks on the last word in state-of-the-art CGI jiggery-pokery and then fall back on cheesy 1960s-style process work for simple scenes of characters riding in cars? It can be argued that this is a case of putting the money where it can be seen to best advantage, but it can also be viewed as vaguely contemptuous of the audience.

Not surprisingly it all leads to an ending that just cries out for a fourth movie — something that only the box-office results will answer. In terms of aesthetics, I can’t say I’m especially keen on the prospect of a fourth film. Pragmatically speaking, however, a T4 might serve to keep Arnold on the screen and out of politics. Now, there’s something to be said for that.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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