Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) — Better than you remember

“You are about to fail that mission!”

PoolMan’s rating: Thank GOD, no screeching 13-year-old boys with voices like constipated owls.

PoolMan’s review: There was an evening not so long ago where Clare and I sat down together in a warm library, fireplace blazing, comfortable in velvet chairs, with cigars and brandy at the ready. We regaled each other with witty remarks about how we thought the 2003 summer movie season would go, and which blue chip companies were showing signs of wear. We disagreed on a few points, but no where, NO WHERE in that article were we of such similar mind than when the topic of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came up. We were both convinced it was going to be just the worst kind of crap.

If I had never bothered to watch it, I would have eternally sat comfortable under the assumption that Terminator 3 was terrible. But it wasn’t. It was good. Very good. I need to see it a couple more times to be sure, but I’m reasonably certain I even liked T3 better than Terminator 2. (flashes back to Edward Furlong) Nope, I’m certain. I liked this new one better.

Watching Rise of the Machines made me realize something I’d never even considered about Terminator 2: Judgement Day. T2 tried WAY too hard. Were you around back then? T2 was the event of the century, of the millennium. It was the kind of thing that made the folks at Entertainment Tonight quiver and moan with unbridled euphoria. It went from scene to scene absolutely BEGGING for your attention, your love, your adoration. It was a steady stream of REALLY BIG MOMENTS that all just demanded too much. T2 was a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but it was like a really loud man shouting in your ear “Wow, if you thought THAT was cool, wait till you see THIS!” for roughly two hours.

T3 hits a much more even pace, starting on a nice action-packed note, allowing a little breathing room, and then ramping steadily to a conclusion not nearly as nauseating as T2‘s big “thumbs up” from the molten metal. So the overall effect, ironically enough, is not to make a Terminator movie that’s biggerbetterlouder than its predecessor, but just make one that’s smarter. Rise of the Machines plays everything relatively subtle, and as a result doesn’t jar on your nerves so much. But it still kicks its share of tail.

The story revolves once more around John Connor (now in his early twenties), the foretold leader of man’s resistance against an army of machines. John’s all growed up now, and doing his best to stay low, hidden, and out of sight from any person or government so that he’ll be safe if another attempt on his life should come. It should surprise no one (if they’ve followed the story, that is) that the result of our hero’s efforts in T2 did not actually eliminate the arrival of Judgment Day but merely postponed it. After all, this isn’t Terminator 3: Everything’s Still Hunky-Dory. SkyNet will still one day take over the world, and John’s still the man to stop it.

Naturally, another Terminator (this time a slinky looking Terminatrix dubbed the T-X) is sent back in time by the machines to take John out, and another is sent back by mankind to protect him. Confused yet? You shouldn’t be, it’s pretty much the same initial setup as T2 but carried to a radically different end. There’s the fun of going down the familiar road (the “good” T-101 once again has to go through the rigours of obtaining clothing and a ride), but the story progresses in a strange new, but utterly plausible, direction. It works. What looks like just another go-round with the same storyline really clicks in solidly with the Terminator universe, but asserts itself at the same time. Sure, the ending positively screams “See you next summer,” but I have to admit, I’ve got no issue with that.

The cast is remarkably good. Arnie has proven that he’s still got it. He can still buff himself out (holy crap, he’s huge in the scene where he first arrives), and he can still earn an honest laugh from the crowd. Thank goodness, Edward Furlong was burned at the stake shortly after his 16th birthday (and that’s the last I’ll mention of his annoying ass), and Nick Stahl picks up the slack in the role, showing some decent skill as the freaked-out social outcast upon whom the world’s weight rests. It was a great relief to me that they really seemed to want to distance the new John from the John of T2. He doesn’t insist on treating the Terminator as a pet, and he’s matured into a much better character. He actually comes to resemble Kyle Reese from the first movie.

Claire Danes shows up as what will probably be remembered as the World’s Most Sensible Romantic Lead. The relationship between Kate and John is realistic and reasonable (considering the circumstances), casting aside a LOT of the usual stereotyped behaviour of the female lead in an action movie. And hey, I’d be remiss to leave out Kristanna Loken as the sexy T-X. While not as cool or menacing as the all-liquid T-1000 from T2, she adds her own brand of creepy, seductive threat. Nice to see another gal kicking ass in the series, anyways.

So there you have it. I thought this movie was going to be a train wreck, a cash grab of the worst order, and it turns out to be an original, clever, and well done “Part 3” that fits in nicely with its predecessors while standing out as its own work. If this is what (new-to-the-series director) Jon Mostow brings that James Cameron didn’t, I say let’s look forward to T4: The Day the Mutants Struck Back.

Kyle’s rating: It’s like how Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship and then just Starship, only Sara has no storm clouds ‘cause she’s dead!

Kyle’s review: You know, I saw T3 opening day, and I thought it was awesome. But in my memory, I was like, “That was cool, but T2 was better.” So then I read PoolMan’s review, and I was like, “Nah, dude, T2 didn’t have to try hard to be cool, it was simply cool!” And then I watched T2 again, and realized that while it’s still a great action movie, it’s not as wonderful as it once was.

I guess I’ve seen much better movies that, while they may not live up to T2 in terms of special effects or action set pieces, provide quality stories that really make me think versus the somewhat cookie-cutter Arnold=good / Robert=bad science fiction elements of T2. It was interesting to have Sarah Connor be this kick-ass chick who was practically a terminator herself (no wonder her action figure was part of the Movie Maniacs line!) who had no qualms about killing whomever it took to forestall Judgment Day, but the fact that she and Kyle Reese would spawn the Edward Furlong version of John Connor (did anyone like him other than Natasha Lyonne?) kind of upset the apple cart of reality T2 presented. My point is that if you haven’t seen T2 in a while, chances are pretty good it’s not as good as you remember. Sorry to be the one to tell you.

But hey, skip the revisiting of T2, because T3 is like a greatest hits package of the series and watching it and it alone will keep your happy memories of the first two Terminator movies intact while allowing you to enjoy some Arnold action (heck, I’ll probably vote for him based just on T3!) and some interesting conundrums regarding time travel and free will versus destiny.

And, like 99% of the world is saying, Nick Stahl does a great job filling in the role of John Connor. I’ve only seen him in really weird roles in really weird films that I’m not in a hurry to watch again and almost wish I hadn’t seen in the first place, and while I wouldn’t buy him for two hours as the leader of the free world (that glimpse we get is good enough) I saw the potential for greatness shine through the reluctant and practically rebellious-against-who-he’s-supposed-to-be anti-heroic hero that he presents John as. Claire Danes looks, um, kinda like a man to me (it’s a man, baby!), but as soon as you suspend disbelief and just accept that she is a woman, then she becomes a realistic reluctant heroine who resists the good guys (don’t they always?) before joining them. Don’t think I’m going to use “reluctant” a third time to describe Kristanna Loken as the evil T-X, because better descriptors would be “hot” and “dangerous” and “vaguely airbrushed.” I love red leather!

See, does the plot even matter? Time travel stuff occurs that gives you a headache (but sets up a great final line from Arnold to John) but it doesn’t matter because two terminators who start out naked but soon seek out and quickly find appropriate leather start wailing on each other in between fulfilling their mission parameters, and humans in the vicinity who are not being protected by a terminator are probably going to end up hamburger meat. And Los Angeles gets pretty trashed along the way, as does a secret government science facility or two (but that’s what they get for hiding them out in the desert, where no one will really notice or care if they get trashed by suddenly-sentient terminator prototypes).

There are a lot of questions that you’ll have, but if you pay close attention to the movie they should all get answered. And if not, hey, that’s Los Angeles getting trashed! And he’s kicking ass and shooting at cops in a benevolent way while carrying a coffin! That’s awesome, dude! Enjoy the violence, your date (man or woman or both at same time [kinky!]) will enjoy the humor that gets tossed into T3 (much more overtly than the first two darker films), and when you’re done you can go out and search for the action figures that you’d think would be out by now, but don’t seem to be. Oh well. Will there be a sequel? Probably. Until then, T3 really is like a greatest hits package with a couple previously unreleased songs that seem jarring or hokey at first but will resonate strongly with you upon repeated experiencing. Have fun, and remember: I’ll be back!

[Ed: No, he won’t.]

Justin’s rating: Good is powered by 176 AA Energizer batteries

Justin’s review: When the eve of the new year 2000 came and went, it was peaceful. Too, too peaceful. After a half-decade of increasingly panicky hype about the horrors of Y2K, about computers crashing the entire world to the Windows Blue Screen Of Death, the apocalypse, and new checkbooks, it was a downright disappointment. Sure, we were all relieved life went on, yadda yadda, but a part of all of us just went, “Huh. That’s all there is? I stayed up and built a fallout shelter out of lead-lined cardboard for this?” We hate getting frothed up about a big event only to have it fizzle like those sad little ash snake bombs that infest every 4th of July fireworks package.

Happily, the Terminator hasn’t turned over a newer, softer, more eco-friendly leaf; he’s the same cranky, throw-you-across-the-room crackerjack he was back in 1984. The third movie in this franchise, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, doesn’t let down the hype, either. For months, I’ve had concerned friends (one whose name rhymes with “Cool Fan”) bellyaching about how the series would be ruined, what with a senior citizen-ready Schwarzenegger stomping about, a female terminator straight from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, and no James Cameron at the helm. Maybe I should’ve been more compassionate and have let my friends live after voicing those doubts, but no matter. T3 dominates on its own merit.

The hook of the series has always been incredibly simple: a cyborg assassin from the future travels back in time to kill the people responsible for winning the war against machines. And this assassin cannot be stopped, ever, until it carries out its mission. Oh sure, there are pit stops for hot dogs and slushies at the 7-11, but then it’s right back to being an unstoppable killing force right after!

T3 doesn’t fiddle with this premise, but adds a few new welcome layers to the plot. The new terminator antagonist is the T-X (Kristanna Loken), a female-based cyborg specifically designed to combat other terminators. Alas, all the good guys get is the same old terminator model that nearly lost to the liquid metal one in Terminator 2; it’s as if the baddies get the cool new sports car, and we’re still stuck with mommy’s station wagon. This time, the T-X has more targets than just John Conner (Nick Stahl), and figuring out the real missions behind both the T-X and Schwarzenegger’s older model is a mystery for the first part of the film.

Of course, all this plot recapping is mere noise to your ears until you figure out if its worth it for the one thing that makes any Terminator movie worthwhile: the action. I say, with my hands on my hips and a manly purple cape billowing in the wind, a resounding “Wah-hoo!”

Most action sequences in films leave me cold these days. Either they’re too rote (chase, chase, chase, take turns getting punched, oh no bad guy is about to stab you in the back, but he gets his) or too laden with noticeable and unbelievable computer graphics to make it anything more than a video game. Terminator 3 isn’t either of these; I was mouthing “wow” quite a few times, a delighted smile on my face, the type of smile that made people give me a five seat-buffer all around. The action is, in a word, marvelous.

Many films turn us off by having apparently normal humans continually do unrealistic feats of strength and agility, and that widens the believability gap. But when both your good and bad characters are robotic — powerful, nearly indestructible, incredibly fast — then I’m ready to believe anything. Both cyborgs hold no punches, instead electing to wail on each other with anything and everything available, including your average urinal (cake not included). Take the car chase scene, which should have been predictable, but ended up being a demolition derby of insane proportions. It’s sincerely fun to watch these terminators throw each other through walls, wielding weapons that would be much more fitting on a tank. The director seems to know where his pay will come from. Terminator 3 is action, action, and action at discounted prices if you just call in during the next ten minutes only!

I can be as picky as the next critic about the shortcomings of such a movie, particularly when its second sequel status makes it open hunting season on its faults. But I never spent one minute thinking that Schwarzenegger looked old here; I rejoiced in the new story twists that they slid in to connect with the ending of the second film; and I thought it was over way too soon for how excellently paced it was. You may pish-posh all you like about Rise Of The Machines and prefer to go see an art film in a museum, but we both know who’s getting the much more enjoyable movie watching experience here. And it isn’t anyone seeing From Justin To Kelly in the next theater over.

Didja notice?

  • Excellent return cameo by Earl Boen as Dr Silberman, whom we last saw when Sarah took him hostage in T2. Boen’s the only actor besides Ahnuld to be in all three Terminator movies.
  • Magnets and You: A Guide to Terminator Survival.
  • The T-101 was modelled after Elton John?
  • Best comeback to “talk to the hand” I’ve ever seen.
  • Heh… I like the T-101 sizing up all the women in the club, before rejecting their clothing as “Inappropriate”.
  • Once again, Victoria’s Secret is here to save the day and teach all women what they should look like. Sheesh.
  • Excellent. Mankind’s only hope against an army of unstoppable machines, and he arms himself with a paintball gun.
  • In a movie franchise that’s now nearly twenty years old and primarily targetted at men, they only just NOW figured out to give us a Terminator we’d WANT to see naked?
  • The T-101 seems to remember the old “keys in the visor” trick.
  • The character of Kate Brewster’s fiancé was originally named Scott Petersen. Due to the name’s similarity to Scott Peterson, and the plot of his fiancée’s kidnapping, the character’s name was changed to Scott Miller, although he’s still listed as Scott Petersen in the credits.

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