Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One Last Trip Back In The Time Line: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines

The Good: Interesting character work, Ending, Special effects
The Bad: Tone and plot
The Basics: When a new set of Terminators are sent back to kill John Connor and his lieutenants, the audience wonders why they bothered, until the end.

The end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (reviewed here!) would have seemed to be a decent ending to the series, but Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines happened anyway. Even so, the third sequel manages to do quite a bit right, making it a pleasant - and hopefully, final - addition to the series. If this was the conclusion to the franchise, the series should be proud of what it accomplishes.

While John Connor does his best to stay off the radar of official organizations and governments, he encounters a young woman from his past. No sooner does he reconnect with Kate Brewster, than a Terminator arrives from the future. The new terminator is a combination of the first and second terminators; a polymorphic robot over an impressive endoskeleton. As John Connor flees, he is aided by a Terminator that was sent back to save him. In the fights and chases that ensue, the Terminator reveals that Judgment Day was merely postponed and the new terminator is virtually indestructible. John and Kate realize that Kate's father is the key to saving the world and head to his Air Force base in an attempt to stop him from putting SkyNet in operation and causing the nuclear holocaust.

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines has only one serious flaw and that is that we've seen it before. The movie begins exactly as the previous two did and the whole sense at the opening of this installment is "been there, done that." It is hard to care right away about why things are happening, unless one is already a a fan of the franchise. Then it is all right, but hardly as engaging or suspenseful as the previous two.

Fortunately, it does not begin by trying to take itself as seriously as the other two. Instead, director Jonathan Mostow allows some humor as the Terminator acquires his clothes and a fairly casual look at the T-X, the new Terminator. The use of humor is all that makes the beginning bearable. Once John and Kate meet up and begin to run, there is little information given that is important or new.

The problem is that Terminator 3 spends too much time on fight sequences and a ridiculously long chase sequence. It's difficult to watch because it seems like every chase and fight sequence is trying to be bigger than the previous chase or fight sequence I saw before. So, as I watched the crane chase in this movie, I thought back to the last chase I saw (in Matrix Reloaded) and I thought, "Yeah, this was bigger than the last one I saw." The problem was, I didn't care. Yeah, it was bigger and faster, but I've seen a chase scene before. We all have. And in Terminator 3, the chase scene is nothing new, it's just bigger than before. It does not resonate with more emotion, it is not more thrilling, it's just more and faster. Anyone can do that. In fact, that's all directors are doing. They look at the last chase they saw and make one even longer, with more peripheral damage.

Similarly, the fight sequences are outright ruined by the previews to the movie. The best fight moves between the T-X and the Terminator are shown in the theatrical trailer, making it somewhat unimpressive and anticlimactic to see it in context.

What the movie does well is work with a new cast. Claire Danes is wonderful as Kate Brewster. She immediately enters the franchise as a young woman with a great deal of charisma and skill. Danes makes Brewster more than a victim of circumstance and that is refreshing to see. Instead, the Danes lends dignity and realism to a character who is being pushed around quite a bit.

Kristianna Loken, the T-X, makes an auspicious entrance as well. The initial problem I had with Loken is that she lacks screen presence. When I think "Terminator," I think brutal killing machine. Rightly or not, when the new Terminator was announced and viewers were told it would be a woman, I anticipated someone with some gravitas, like Lucy Lawless or even a female wrestler. I was thinking of someone who looked vicious, someone who looked menacing. Loken, however, takes the T-X in a different direction, making her seem like she could be any woman and thus non-threatening and dangerous in a more cunning than blatant way.

Nick Stahl does a good job inheriting a role that has already been established and making it feel like he has been in it all along. Stahl makes John Connor seem reasonably conflicted and a strange combination of reluctant and destined. He plays Connor more casually than intense and it makes the movie worth seeing.

In the end, the best part of the movie is the last half hour. Not because we are happy to see the movie end, but because the climactic scenes are just that, climactic. The end is an intriguing twist that brings a great deal of closure to the franchise and makes the battle we have been watching for hours seem worthwhile. And it's not the typical action-adventure ending, which I liked a great deal.

Is Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines the best of the trilogy? No. But it becomes essential to the story and it is certainly the best way to put the series to rest. It's too bad they had to add so many chases and fights to get us there. This one gets high scores when it sticks to the storytelling, but somewhat lower when it tries to be an action-adventure movie. In the end, it is probably best appreciated by fans of the series.

For other science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
The Terminator
The Alien Quadrilogy
Star Trek


For other movie reviews, please click here for the appropriate index page!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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