Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review
It seems that all of the old school 80s action heroes are coming back. From Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard to Sylvester Stallone, with Rocky Balboa and Rambo, and then there's even Harrison Ford, fresh off another Indiana Jones flick. Stallone's latest ensemble actioner The Expendables reunites many familiar action stars of past and present (including Jet Li, Jason Statham and even Dolph Lundgren). They're all coming back, mainly to get a success boost in the twilight of their careers. Ageing action stars, returning to what they did best, what made them famous and what they will be best remembered for to reinvigorate their careers and prove to their fans that they still have what it takes. Well probably the most popular of all of these action heroes decided to do this back in 2003, a certain Governor of California - Arnold Schwarzenegger - who finally agreed to do Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and pretty-much book-end his film career with the third movie in the franchise that he is probably best recognised for.
Twelve years have passed since John Connor, would-be leader of the resistance and saviour of the human race, last encountered a Terminator. The start of the war to end all wars - Judgement Day (originally supposedly in 1997) has long since come and gone and nothing happened. Connor has been forced to live a life 'off the radar', with his mother gone and no ties, simply drifting from town to town, his whole purpose in life having been stripped away by the anticlimax that was Judgement Day.
Then one night, whilst tending to his injuries after a motorcycle accident, he finds that his dream/nightmare has come true - it is not over. Yet another two Terminators have been sent back in time, again one to protect him and one to destroy him. Confused, he finds out that Judgement Day has merely been postponed, and that the war is actually imminent, in a matter of hours. He is once again destined to lead the resistance, if only he can survive. Sure he has the protection from his trusty old Terminator (a T-850, not wholly unlike the previous T-800 models) but this time their adversary is a much more advanced creation, a T-X Terminator with an almost impregnable endoskeleton, an arsenal of built-in weaponry, and an outer layer which enables it to mimic any human it encounters perfectly. Can she be stopped, or is Judgement Day inevitable?
The Terminator was quite a dark, relentless thriller, borrowing strong horror elements but making for quite an original yarn. In terms of story continuity, the time-travel elements just about held together and allowed for a sequel to be made. Set some 12 years later, it developed the theme of killer/protector by having two battling Terminators. This time the good Terminator was a replica of a model from the first movie and the assassin was a 'mimetic polyalloy', a liquid-metal Terminator which could mimic not only other humans but also surrounding environmental elements. It could also form its body into blade-based weaponry for combat. These ideas alone made the sequel feel quite original, but the film also boasted groundbreaking visual effects - CGI - which had simply never been seen before on such a scale. Now, we take it for granted, but back then it was just amazing. The only comparable leap we have really seen since has been in The Matrix, with the refinement of 'bullet-time'. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was one of those rare sequels which lived up to the expectations and even, arguably, surpassed its founding instalment not only in terms of scale but also in terms of narrative (like Godfather Part 2 and perhaps even Aliens).
Terminator 3 is like The Godfather Part 3 in comparison to the other two. In terms of second sequels it is not as bad as Beverly Hills Cop 3 or Robocop 3, but not as good as Die Hard with a Vengeance - somewhere in between. On the plus side, it sees the central star - Arnold Schwarzenegger - returning, and he is on good form, allegedly in the same physical shape as he was for the second Terminator movie (although facially he does look older). His character has also been developed slightly, from the monosyllabic relentless automaton from the first movie, to the 'learning robot' of the second movie, who had to adapt and improvise in order to outsmart a superior adversary, to a now more refined (at least in terms of character) robot, who has all of the traits of his predecessors but has to work even harder to maintain his 'protect' objectives whilst outwitting yet another vastly superior opponent. It's not exactly a meaty role for Schwarzenegger, but it is a step up from the past two films and works well as a development, possibly one of the few developments that this movie has made.
This time Arnie's Terminator is out to protect the adult John Connor (who we last saw portrayed by Edward Furlong - who really should have returned to the role, despite his drug habits), played by Nick Stahl. Stahl is not a bad actor, having found success in very unusual roles, both as a despicable low-life youth in Bully and as the hero in the strange but compelling HBO TV series Carnivale. His Connor is a mixed-bag however, spending much of the movie being extremely moody and negative and not having really grown up a great deal since we last saw him. The Terminator also has to protect another person, a young woman who too will be of importance in the future - Katherine Brewster - played by Romeo and Juliet's Claire Danes. She seems slightly out of place, but at least her character has a bit more stamina and drive than the lame John Connor. Unfortunately, you can't help that these are just direct (and poor) replacements for the two main characters the 'good' Terminator helped in the last movie.
In terms of adversary, what could really top the T-1000 from Terminator 2? Robert Patrick's liquid metal killer was superb, a deceptively slender, seemingly weaker opponent for Schwarzenegger's muscle-bound T-800, but one who was in actual fact far superior. The concept was great as well - a Terminator who could imitate the lino floor that you're walking on, or morph himself so that he can slip through the bars of a cell. How were they supposed to top him? Have a Terminator who could change into a gaseous form? (Well, believe it or not, that idea was on the cards) As I've stated, the new Terminator, the T-X, is a female who appears to be a cross between the T-800 (Arnie's model) and the T-1000 (the liquid guy), as she is a metal body coated in liquid that enables her to imitate other humans. To be honest, she seems more like a prototype of Robert Patrick's T-1000 than a superior model. Sure, she's got (literally) an arm-full of weapons and is pretty tough, but she isn't much of a technological development. Kristanna Loken (the star of one of Uwe Boll's many abysmal productions, Bloodrayne) is pretty good in the role, not least because of her physique, but also because she is pretty spot-on with the Terminator mannerisms. Apparently she did some miming classes, so that she could get across emotions with facial expressions and body language, and it's clear that this works because she is convincing in a role where she has no dialogue after the first half hour.
As for the story, well this time round it just isn't as good. As mentioned before, it goes for the Godfather 3 approach, which kind of takes all the previous ingredients and mixes them up into what is basically a remake, rather than a sequel. Sure, the set-pieces are grand, the stunts are amazing (they actually get a real eighteen-wheeler crane/lorry to take a corner on one side of wheels) and the climax is reasonably satisfying (it even has a reasonable twist in it) but it does all feel like it has been done before. Wouldn't it have been nicer to see the full-on Judgement Day war raging, with perhaps Arnie's T-800 reprogrammed and helping the Resistance fight the evil Terminators, led by the T-1000s or the T-Xs? I guess the upcoming Terminator: Salvation may deliver somewhat on this front, and in the meantime The Sarah Connor Chronicles have kept us entertained, but had Rise of the Machines been the end of it all, whilst being a marginally unnecessary second sequel, it was one which marked a fitting end to Schwarzenegger's career as a leading action-man in Hollywood. And if you are just happy seeing Arnie doing what he does best one last time, then this is well worth watching.