Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review
Before he was “The Governator”, Schwarzenegger was, of course, “The Terminator”. Despite other hit films, such as True Lies and Commando - it was in Cameron's two films that the actor truly found his iconic role. The original, and its big budget sequel probably need very little introduction here. Violent, bleak, intelligent, and cleverly constructed the films deserve their classic status - and the latter is one of those rare occasions where the sequel is actually better than the original (Cameron was to repeat this feat with Aliens)
However, unfortunately it is not the originals we are looking at here - but the rather weak third instalment, released in 2003 nearly 20 years after the original. When Cameron refused to be involved it seemed unlikely that Schwarzenegger would reprise his role. He was already embarking on his fledgling political career, and he had not had a hit role in a long time. However, sign-on he did, and suddenly a proposal that was a worry amongst fans suddenly became a film that did at least pique the curiosity a little.
Interestingly, this film is nowhere near as bad as it could have been. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if it was not trying to live up to its illustrious predecessors then it may have been quite a success. Unfortunately, when you are producing the third entry in such a high quality successful franchise, mediocrity is not enough. You need to shine. Frustratingly, there are so many moments when this film nearly does - but ultimately it remains a mere curiosity and a film for franchise completists only.
The plot is certainly an interesting addition to the franchise. Sarah Connor is dead, and John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living “Off the Radar”. When he almost hits a rabbit on a dark road at night, he comes off his bike and ends up injured. After breaking into a vets to self medicate, he bumps into staff member Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) who, it turns out, he had made out with just before he ran into the Terminator in the second film. Whilst this is going on, Skynet has sent back an even more advanced model, a Terminatrix, who is trying to wipe Connor out. As before, the Resistance are able to send a lone warrior back to protect him, and again it is the T-101.
Sadly, so far it is a case of déjà vu, and things really don't improve much as the film goes on. When The Terminator arrives, he breaks into a bar and hijacks a male stripper's act to steal his clothes. Just compare this to the sheer brutality of the similar scene in the second movie. This Terminator may be a little older and a little flabbier, but playing him for comedy like this really does not serve the character well.
The plot once it develops is a pretty standard chase movie, with the Terminatrix attempting to kill Connor and the T - 101 trying to save him. However, a twist of sorts is introduced in the mix about half way through as the character's objectives change, and suddenly they are faced, yet again, with saving the world from Judgement day. Even here, the movie is bound up in its own shortcomings, failing to engender any sense of danger into proceedings. It even manages to shoehorn a quite ridiculous scene where The Terminator has a strange fit, and ends up trying to kill John.
Yet, just when it appears that the film is painting itself into a beige corner of dullness, it turns completely leftfield and finishes with one of the darkest, most nihilistic endings seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie. I will not spoil it for you, suffice to say that not only is it easily the best ending in the franchise, it is also one of the best endings of the past decade. The effect of this is that when you turn the film off, you are left with a feeling that you have somehow just watched a film that is a lot cleverer and brilliant than it actually is. Once this feeling wears off, however, you see it for what it is - a formulaic chase movie with a non formula ending.
And this, in a nutshell, sums up Terminator III perfectly. Someone, somewhere had a great idea for an ending, and then spent the whole of the rest of the film trying to reach that ending, sometimes in the most nonsensical ways. All this is a shame, because there is a lot to like about this film. Despite the occasional missteps into comedy, and the lack of menace, Schwarzenegger still manages to convince as The Terminator, and the film cleverly acknowledges the actor's age by introducing a slightly more reflective character to the robot, even if this does take the edge off him somewhat. Stahl and Danes are both very underrated actors and they do a very good job here, particularly Stahl who does a good job of developing his character throughout the movie, from loner to team player.
The effects are also top notch, in particular a chase through traffic with a huge great crane truck which impresses. Mostow brings a nice sense of kinetic energy to proceedings, and ushers events along well. The trouble is, though, that all this action has no cerebral undertow to it. Terminator 1 and II played with weighty issues and encouraged the viewer to think a little in between the action. Terminator 3 does not have the courage to do this until the end, and by then it is too late. This is not to say the film is mediocre - it has many things to recommend it as a Saturday night popcorn flick. As an entry into the Terminator franchise, however, it is punching above its weight - and although it does well, ultimately it sags under the weight of expectation.