Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Directed by Jonathan Marstow

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 12.20.18 PM

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an entertaining enough action movie, but it falls flat when inevitably compared to the previous two Terminator movies.  The first was a simple, streamlined horror movie of sorts, and the second remixed the first, turning Schwarzenegger into the hero and for the first time positioning Terminator v. Terminator.  This movie?  Well it’s just a collection of the greatest hits of the first two, though the magic is gone.

I think the first two are so engaging because while the action is already electrifying, there is a human side to the story.  We are made to really relate to the horrors and wonder faced by Sarah and John Connor.  In the first, the premise of the film does most of the heavy lifting, and in the second, once the novelty of a Terminator has worn off, the wish fulfillment of a thirteen year old boy controlling his very own Terminator breathes new energy into what could easily feel like a tired sequel.

That sequel, Judgment Day, isn’t afraid to take a few chances.  Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) becomes a grizzled anti-hero, at one point dead set on assassinating a man who at that point in time is quite likable, and young John Connor (Edward Furlong) is a bit of a jerk when the movie begins.

These characters, at the very least, are defined and feel unique.  They may be a little broad at times, John sure is, but there is an energy there, and it helps emphasize their respective growth as characters.  The two Connors, along with good guy Terminator Schwarzenegger, form a charming, unlikely family, and it’s that beating heart which elevates the film to more than just a well-executed B movie.

Terminator 3 is unconcerned with character and story.  The adult John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now grouped together with a new female lead, a former classmate and his future wife, Katherine Brewster (Claire Danes), and together they form a rather bland leading couple.  The performances, I’m sure, are fine, but there is so little to work with.

The movie tries to give them an arc, but all it amounts to is them beginning to fall in love, which is absurd because such progress in their relationship requires Brewster to completely overlook the fact that in the span of a handful of hours her fiancé is slaughtered, and she must watch her father be shot to death.  In like the span of a football game.

It should be devastating, but because we’ve seen this kind of carnage before within this franchise, the movie breezes right through it instead of letting the moment breath and giving Brewster the room to mourn or at least express horror at what’s happening.  The first two movies, no matter how quickly they moved, found a way to express such horror.  You see it, for example, in the scene from Terminator 2 when Sarah, in the midst of an escape from a mental institution, runs back into Schwarzenegger’s sunglass-wearing robot and falls to her knees with the most petrified expression you’ve ever seen.  That’s all it takes, and it sells all the emotion that the moment requires.

This time around it’s all action, and that action is at times inventive.  It’s as engaging as most other action movies around this time, if not more, but you’d like to hold the movie to a higher standard because of what came before and what, we know, the movie has to play around with.

The only thing Terminator 3 introduces is a female terminator, who seems little more than a knock off of the antagonist from Terminator 2, as well as a bit of unwanted world building that opens the movie up for the series of further underwhelming sequels to come.

I will say that as a bit of anthropology, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a reminder of the strange fashion of the early 2000’s, a sense of style which I don’t think has aged as well as the more eccentric ways of the 80s, however maybe the early 2000’s will come back into fashion in a decade or so.

Up Next: The Right Stuff (1983), Blindspotting (2018), The Predator (2018)

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