Film Review: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

SYNOPSIS:

John Connor is now in his 20′s, and a female terminator, called T-X or Terminatrix, is after him. Another T-101 is sent back through time to protect John once again on the verge of the rise of the machines.

REVIEW:

Director Jonathan Mostow, who brought us the Kurt Russell vehicle “Breakdown” (no pun intended) and the exciting “U-571″ directs this under-rated, unfairly panned science fiction actioner in “The Terminator” franchise. T3 has become sort of the black sheep of the Terminator films. The first 2 entries by Cameron of course being epic in scope and extremely popular and McG’s entry being very polarizing. T3 is still an exciting, capable and entertaining sci fi yarn that bridges T2 and itself with a good story, good performances, the return of Arnold and a bad ass villain that is sexy but completely hell bent on destroying anything that gets in her way. Gale Ann Hurd (The Walking Dead and Aliens) produces T3 and writer John D. Brancato (The Game,  T4 – Salvation) pens the screenplay along with Micheal Ferris (The Net and Catwoman). The story, while not really breaking new ground, does successfully bring the characters of John Conner and the T- 101 back together in a believable, interesting and coherent manner. The movie just works through and through as an exciting sci fi / adventure without getting to heavy handed in tone and sloppy in delivery. Director Mostow handles all aspects of the movie decently and the cast performs way above and beyond the material that elevates T3 to an above average Schwarzenegger picture.

Troubled actor Nick Stahl (Sin City) plays John Conner (After the lackluster Edward Furlong was passed up due to a substance abuse problem) who lives completely off the grid in Los Angeles. He is downtrodden, lives day to day and is addled with depression and addiction. He drives around on a beaten up motorcycle and constantly gets high and has a bad habit of breaking into Animal Hospitals to acquire drugs. He believes that “Judgement Day” in 1997 has not been completely averted and while trying hard not to be noticed Skynet still sends a Terminator to the past to destroy Conner once again having him face off a deadly enemy. The Terminator this time is the T-X which arrives in 2004 to track down John Conner and his future resistance members and whack them into oblivion one by one. The T-X is played by the very easy on the eyes actress, Kristanna Loken (Bloodrayne and Painkiller Jane) and her intro is very hot and her run in with a traffic cop is funny and quite fitting. The T-X while being very sexy and good looking is dangerous and lethal and Mostow really uses the irony to great effect here. She has an exterior liquid-metal exoskeleton like the previous T-1000 and has built in weapons and a mainframe computer that allows her to manipulate any computer she comes into contact with. The resistance sends back a beat up refurbished T – 850 101 model to help Conner out and protect him. Arnold, in very good shape here (Unlike how he looks now in “The Last Stand.” Oh well T3 was 10 years ago…) makes a great intro and makes his way to a strip bar where he arrives naked and demands the clothes off of a stripper. He then “Talks to the Hand” of said stripper in order to get what he wants. He also tries on some Elton John style glasses and proceeds to crush them underfoot in a funny little scene.

Conner, meanwhile breaks into a Vet’s Office to cop some meds. He in turn gets caught by newly engaged Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) and she locks him up for breaking into the clinic and trying to steal drugs. She also recognizes him as a friend from high school and tells him that everyone had wondered what happened to him during the trouble that cropped up in T2. The T-X eventually tracks down Conner to the clinic and dispatches an unlucky woman waiting to get her pet looked at. The T-X has been going around killing off Conner’s future LT.’s in pretty brutal fashion. One dude gets whacked at a fast food drive thru. What a way to go. Arnold arrives in time to intercept the T-X and we get a great action sequence that Mostow handles with a deft hand. We get an insane chase and showdown that starts at the Clinc and continues through the city streets. We watch as the chase involves a huge crane on wheels vs a Motorcycle vs a beat up pick truck vs a dozen cop cars. It’s just insane and wonderfully put together utilizing great editing and seamless camerwork. One particular scene has the crane with Arnold holding on to it crashing through buildings, parked cars, telephone poles and parking meters. They lose the T-X (Danes is forced to ride it out in the back of the beat up pick up truck in a very funny scene) and the story moves at a good clip to where Sarah Conner is buried. Seems like John was kept out of the loop and even though she died of a terminal disease she kept heavy artillery in her casket. Once again the T-X follows them (She gets rid of Kate’s fiance as well and punches a cop through the back seat of a squad car right into his chest. Gory fun kids.) Another well staged action piece ensues with Arnold holding a casket and making a getaway while trying his best to only wound the cops that are after them.

The film does slow down for us to take it all in and breath a little. Here Mostow and his writers successfully create good drama using some well placed levity and some heart and soul. Arnold, Stahl and Dane all mesh very well. They play excitedly against each other. Dane who has the best acting chops here is a very strong female character trying to accept her role in history though she comes off appropriately hysterical at times. Even Arnold is great here and he displays some of that genuine fondness of his character that he started with his turn in T2. He is encouraging, philosophical and even acts as a shrink during a stressful time. An absolutely loveable machine. Some of the best stuff is yet to happen as we find out a bit more about Skynet and the activation of the self aware computer network that devastates the world. Kate’s father (in a bit of a weak link and stretch story wise) is actually a Military man involved with the team behind Skynet. Robert Brewster played by David Andrews (Fight Club) eventually comes to grip with the futility of the situation and helps Kate and John escape the facility as the Arnold and the T-X go another round. The other machines and weapons become self aware and begin destroying everyone and everything in their path. Do Kate and John make it to a secret bunker and to safety and does the shut down and defeated T-850 ever come to their rescue? Does the T-X get around to taking out John Conner? Well it all comes to a gripping and exciting conclusion for sure.

I like T3 and whenever I revisit it, I STILL like it. I know it is flawed but I feel people are way too harsh regarding it. It is a smart and fun science fiction film that involves a cool protagonist and an even cooler and deadlier antagonist. I won’t go into a nerdy rant about any inconsistencies and “How they destroyed the Terminator franchise.” I just want to be fair and in all fairness while not being exactly 2001 – A Space Odyssey or The Matrix, T3 is not all bad. Yeah, some of the comedic elements may fall flat and Stahl can be wooden and whiney at times but there is much to like here. Loken is fun from her intro to her last scene. She’s cold (and hot, haha), calculating and fiercely bad ass in T3. Whenever they face off they not only mess each other up they destroy everything around them. Their fight in the military facility’s lavatory and the way they go about destroying the men’s urinal stalls is hands down the best moment in the movie. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and Mostow keeps the crazy train that Cameron started, rolling here. I commend him for that and it was no easy feat for him I’m sure. So pop some popcorn, sit your butt on the sofa, watch a cheesy “Asylum” movie for an appetizer then as an entree serve yourself up some wildly fun sci-fi goodness with Arnold, Loken, Dane and Stahl in this very decent ensemble Terminator entry. Enjoy.

I give it 4 T-X’s out of 5

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

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