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Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines 



Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and 
     Tedi Sarafian (Story)
     John Brancato and Michael Ferris 

Main Cast:
Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator
Nick Stahl - John Connor
Claire Danes - Kate Brewster
Kristanna Loken - T-X
David Andrews - Robert Brewster
Mark Famiglietti - Scott Petersen
Earl Boen - Dr. Peter Silberman
Moira Harris - Betsy
Chopper Bernet - Chief Engineer
Chris Lawford - Brewster's Aide 
Carolyn Hennesy - Rich Dead Woman
Jay Acovone - Dead Cop - Westside Street

Rated R  

“That was a different T-101.”     
“What do you guys, come off an assembly line or 
“Oh man, I'm gonna have to teach you 
     everything all over again.”

To sum up: Arnold's back as the Terminator from the future; sent to protect John Connor from a superior Terminator sent back to kill him. Apparently the plot from "Terminator 2" was sent back as well. 

     Although Skynet, the machines that are to have overthrown mankind in the future, has been destroyed (as seen in "Terminator 2"), a now twenty-something John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living underground, fearfully convinced that a machine controlled future can still happen. His fears are confirmed when Skynet sends back yet another Cyborg, this time in the form of a sexy Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken). With John out of sight she sets out to kill his lieutenants, including Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), and with luck find him. Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger as the good Terminator, sent back in time by the human resistance to protect them.

     The first 2 Terminator films were nearly perfect action vehicles. The first was a classic example of low budget filmmaking brilliance. For 8 million dollars we got a marvelously executed love story about a killer cyborg from the future. It also made a career for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The second film was almost as good as the original. Dealing with two machines (one human in the form of Linda Hamilton and the other not in the form of Arnold) learning what it meant to be human - it set box office records while providing some truly revolutionary visual effects.

     Now after setting the bar sooooo high, only sheer stupidity and greed would make someone want to do another Terminator. Almost every time we have a situation like this, good writing goes out the window and we get a "Phantom Menace" or and "Alien 3".

     Is that the case with this film? Not quite. I went in expecting a lackluster film and came out surprisingly entertained. Why? Well, for 3 main reasons.

     One - This film didn't have either James Cameron, the first 2 films' writer and director, or Linda Hamilton, who was John Connor's mother. That's bad. But what it did have was the return of Arnold. Without him there could be no Terminator films. Arnold has taken a character and defined it so thoroughly that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part. And though Arnold made the studio pony up a huge chunk of change ($31 million!!!) to star in this film, they know that when he commits to a film, he makes sure that he gives his all to that film. Indeed the most famous example of that for this film occurred when the studio was reluctant to give more money for the extended car chase, the action centerpiece of the film. To help out, Arnold donated $1 million of his own cash to help ensure that the sequence came out just right. I don't know of many other stars doing that.

     At this point, Arnold becoming the Terminator is like slipping on that old comfortable pair of shoes. He has the ins and outs of this character down. His portrayal this time is more closely in line with his take in "Terminator 2" and because of the familiarity of the audience with this character, he gets to have a bit more fun with the role. It's almost as if each Terminator they send back through time gets an upgrade in the "Likable Guy" portion of his programming. In a few films, he should be doing stand-up.

     Two - The action in this film is very good. Although it worked in "The Matrix", I for one am getting sick of the wire assisted, Hong Kong inspired action scenes. This film has two tanks, the Terminators, pounding away at each other in a glorious free-for-all of property damage producing action. As a result the computer work that usually accompanies action scenes these days is kept to a minimum and things have a refreshing down-to-earth feel (in that over-the-top, explosive way). 

     Of note is the aforementioned car chase. With poor John in a small truck, being pursued by the Terminatrix in a stolen monstrous crane-truck, and Arnold right behind in his own commandeered fire truck, one is assured of two things. One is that I have no idea what the true names of these vehicles are. The second is the certainty that everything in the way is going to get smashed. Buildings and cars all, the destruction sure looks cool. 

     The second most entertaining action sequence is when the two Terminators finally get their hands on each other and engage in a brawl in which nothing is safe, especially a building's restroom. Not satisfied with the destruction of a restroom in the film "True Lies", Arnold really takes out his aggressions for toilet terminating in this film.

     Three - There's a large amount of humor. The film plays with the familiarity we have with the other films and the Terminator himself. We know the Terminator arrives naked and must find clothes in order to blend in. In the past he's killed street punks and maimed bikers in a bar to secure the threads. This time he winds up in a strip club on ladies night. The film pokes fun at the Terminator's love of cool sunglasses. It toys with his trying to use human sarcasm and slang - especially the phrase "talk to the hand." In short it's a pretty funny film.

     It is, however, loaded with flaws, especially compared to the first two films. The depth of characterization is almost nonexistent. Though it took time spent with the people he was protecting for him to learn things in the last film, here the Terminator does has these traits almost right away. For example, in "Terminator 2" he had to be ordered not to kill anyone. In this one he seems to know it immediately. There are times when he starts to show the beginnings of human emotion just like he did in "T-2", but there are no moments of character bonding in this film to support the sudden existence of these emotions. Did he have "quality time" before he was sent back? If so, inform the audience. 

     Also the characters of John Connor and Kate Brewster are almost paper thin. There is no real evolution by these characters except simply realizing that they may not be able to stop the machines from taking over. For the most part their job is to run, duck, and cover while Arnold does his job protecting them. Nick Stahl is not bad for the role that he is given but it's really hard to seem him as the battle-hardened leader of the human resistance of the future. Edward Furlong, who played the Connor character at age 10 in the previous film, was able to project that better. Again part of the problem is the lack of a character story in the script. Claire Danes fares hardly better with a role that is little more than "future girlfriend".

     Kristanna Loken, the sexy T-X, clearly looks like she's having fun with her role. Though she's playing the part of the unemotional killer cyborg, there's a twinkle in her eyes that let's the audience know that she's having fun playing with the big toys and doing the big action. She likes kicking butt.

     Also one has to wonder why the film doesn't answer some of the obvious questions that have crept into the series. Why do they keep sending back Arnold to battle these superior machines? Is it a nod towards the classic underdog story? Are they trying to say that older machines are inherently superior and I should trade in my Playstation for an Atari 2600? Yes, I know that it's because Arnold is the star but at least explain why it has to be him. I'm also wondering why they don't send back an army of machines?  Seems like the thing to do since one at a time isn't working. At least send them so they show up every day instead of every 10 years.

     In short, as a Terminator film it's not nearly as good as the others. As a summer action film it is definitely one of the better ones that I have seen -  a little more meat and not as empty on the calories.

     Almost certainly, they'll be back.

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