Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Screenplay: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Review published July 2, 2003
When you've got a billion dollar franchise on your hands, chances are you're not going to let it sit on the shelves too long. Even if you can't get the visionary director of the first two films, there's still potential gold in them there hills, and by gum, they have got to be had. But there's a problem here, because if you don't have a visionary, you don't have a vision, and with a $170 million dollar budget at stake, it's too risky to go in without a solid game plan.
The game plan from the get-go is to try to recreate the vision that James Cameron had for his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day and try to top it. Keep Schwarzenegger (The 6th Day, End of Days) as the good Terminator, craft a bad Terminator that's even more menacing than the T-1000, and blow everyone away with stunts and special effects to try to make the first two films pale in comparison.
T3 isn't really a bad sequel, and probably the kind of film you'd expect when the original creators have washed their hands of the project from inception. However, when you follow one of the best sequels in movie history in T2, anything less than earth shattering brilliance is not allowed. People were genuinely content with how things stood, and if we're going to dance the dance one more time, there better damn well be a good reason.
There isn't. With T3 we see the replacement of James Cameron as the director to Jonathan Mostow, competent but as of yet unspectacular, whose only previous claims to movie making fame were the good but less-than-stellar suspense-action films U-571 and Breakdown. If that drop in inspiration wasn't significant enough, the chore of writing the script has also been given to the writing team of John D. Bracato and Michael Ferris, who collaborated on the far-fetched thrillers, The Net and The Game. Then, Linda Hamilton isn't on board, nor is Edward Furlong. What you are left with is Arnie, a sky's-the-limit budget, and a formula laid out by the predecessor so that they could play things as safe as possible by adhering to it at all costs.
T3 takes place roughly ten years after we've last seen John Connor (Stahl, Sin City), who has lived a rogue existence now that he has been contented that Judgment Day has been averted. Or so he thinks, until several young men and women around the city start getting picked off one by one by a powerful new Terminator, the T-X (Loken, SWAT: Firefight), which has the power to shape shift as well as control other machines. Another T-800 "Model 101" model Terminator (Schwarzenegger) has also come back to play the role as protector of John and his potential future wife, Kate (Danes, The Hours), and it is his sole mission to make sure that they survive the impending doom that is to befall the rest of mankind. However, this doesn't sit well with John and Kate, who have about three hours to try to change destiny, against the seemingly insurmountable odds and against an unstoppable, omni-powerful opponent that will not rest.
Although T3 is a clearly inferior sequel to the other two that come before it, it does have a couple of things that make it a tolerable viewing even if it falls short creatively. First, the special effects are phenomenal, with a couple of action sequences that are nothing short of breathtakingly rendered. It's truly an eye-candy lovers delight. Second, it does have a good sense of humor. Not all of the jokes are funny, but plenty of them are, and even if the main plot isn't engaging enough for us to care one way or another, at least there's some choice fun to be had along the way.
The bad news is that, try as they might, they couldn't keep boredom from setting in because the main ideas are just woefully inadequate. While the effects and stunts leave a lasting impression visually, somehow they don't manage to actually help the story or plot. We don't care about the characters enough to really feel on the edge when their lives are in jeopardy, and probably wouldn't shed a tear should they meet an unfortunate demise. Contrast this to T2, which left a lump in many a person's throat as the two main machines went to battle for the fate of humankind. We marvel at the the level of explosions, carnage, and mayhem, yet we never truly connect with them enough to make us feel the danger we are supposed to.
There are stints where T3 looks like it's on the verge of going somewhere, yet it always falls back to gratuitousness in effects and action to try to build upon. The first two films in the series laid the groundwork by providing characters we care about and a fate we were invested in wholeheartedly...we actually believed that everything hung in the balance at all times. T3 is all backwards, because everything is built around the stunt pieces, and the characters are dwarfed in comparison, almost included merely as the vehicle to show more amazing visual effects and things blowing up.
For fans of the series, who undoubtedly will still go to watch this film even though they may have reservations, I would only recommend to view T3 as a "What if..." movie rather than a direct sequel. Otherwise, it's no different than a Terminator itself, a mechanical construct whose only drive is to deliver its mission, feeling no emotions and possessing not even a trace of a soul.
-- Followed by Terminator: Salvation
©2003 Vince Leo