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Nik Huggins

Published August 1st, 2003 | by Nik Huggins

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review

The fate of a saga perceived by many, including its creator, to have run its course lies in the hands of an oversized Austrian/American with a penchant for big cigars and short sentences. With Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger falls off the end of a Skynet conveyor belt with a weighty thud ready for a third outing as the original, but now antiquated T-800 unit. After riding the back slope of a waning career for half a decade with a string of movies that placed him in more “demanding psychological roles” (Batman and Robin!, End of Days!!, Collateral Damage!!!) it would seem that Arnie agreed to do another Terminator sequel quicker than you can say: “Uzi 9 millimetre!”.

Almost two decades of transmutation and development culminates in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, standing (with a budget teetering around the 170 million Dollar mark) as one of cinemas’ most costly, but not particularly ambitious, attempts at reinvigorating a franchise. When the scent of box office cash wafts before the studio bosses’ noses’ it becomes hard to pass up another crack at tried and tested material; it’s as close as they’ll ever get to sure thing, and they know it.

The murkily ambiguous ending of Terminator 2: Judgement Day always allowed for the slightest glimmer of further instalments. James Cameron is fully aware of this, despite his protestations over the resuscitation of his baby 12 years on and his blank refusal to be involved with the entire project. Therefore, the door not fully closed in 1991 has been kicked completely off its hinges by Arnies’ mechanised boot, and gradually the paradoxical realisation that Judgement Day is inevitable allows for the situation where Terminator plot lines can be inexhaustibly recycled. The machines’ third attempt at destroying the future by changing the past manifests itself in the form of the deadly and alluring TX, played by former model Kristanna Loken. Besides looking chic in designer fashions and bearing an unsettling resemblance to Eastenders’ reject Tamsin Outhwaite, the latest generation of Hunter-Killer also possesses the ability to manipulate mechanical objects to assist her in annihilating mankind’s saviour.

World weary and understandably paranoid John Connor (Nick Stahl) cowers on the periphery of society, away from the all-encompassing reach of Skynet and its mulititude of digital informers. No bank accounts, no credit cards, no official identity no means of being detected. An unfortunate twist of fate, infused with the sense of pre-destination that flows through T3, thrusts Connor into direct contact with the TX and the third incarnation of his mechanical guardian. Thus ensues the familiar endgame of hunter pitted against hunted as the Terminator, Connor and unwilling hostage/accomplice Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) strive to halt Judgement Day whilst evading the resourceful and accomplished Terminatrix.

As an antidote to the mechanised machismo of previous Terminator instalments, the central conflict in T3 is manifested as a sexualised struggle between genders. The TX’s supine grace and seductive methods of infiltration (including inflatable comedy breasts to ward off highway patrolmen) bring an unexplored element to a proceeding, which compliments a greater feeling of vulnerability in Schwarzenegger’s model. Fully aware of his own inferiority in the face of such advanced opposition, Arnie summons up as much foreboding as he can to deliver the line: “I am an obsolete model”. Schwarzenegger has transformed into the hero with apparent frailties, aware of his own mortality and it diminishes his on-screen presence in the role he was manufactured to play. He even has nuggets of philosophical wisdom perfect for those quiet, pensive moments now programmed into his sub-routines, enabling him to be the perfect comfort blanket when the listless and tortured John Connor needs a titanium shoulder to cry on. The intense, unflinching masculinity previously displayed in the T-800 is de-mystified and occasionally played for laughs. Arnie parades himself naked, after his arrival from the future, at the “ladies night” of a local bar, stealing his customary black leather garb and a couple of ultra-camp put downs, from the evenings’ baby-oiled performer. Whilst this scene is vaguely amusing one can’t help feeling that the original, chilling image of the Terminator, not to mention Schwarzeneggers’ cinematic legacy of invulnerability, has been sullied forever at the expense of some cheap gags.

T3 does at times feel like an orphaned child, estranged from its siblings and the guiding hand of a creator completely at ease with the material. Despite all of Jonathan Mostows’ proven action pedigree and diligent effort, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines rarely manages to invoke either the frenetically charged pace of the first film or the opulence and innovation of the second. Convincingly let down by a sparse, unoriginal and charm-free script the result is an ordinary and incongruous poor relation, loosely organised around a mesmerising but all too brief opening flash-forward to the future war (which, misleadingly, has featured heavily in the pre-release hype) and a couple of genuinely excellent action set-pieces. The pick of these involves Arnie being tossed around by the TX on the back of a mobile crane as it roars through low-rise Los Angeles. The characterisation is limp and predicable, Claire Danes is the doubting yet determined love-interest forced to face up to an unpalatable destiny and Nick Stahl is totally unconvincing as the hero who will lead the human race to victory. The cockiness and latent volatility of Edward Furlongs’ on and off-screen persona is sadly absent. Gone with it is the endearing interaction between man and machine that perked up the second film considerably, as the intimacy between Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, I would have loved to see him feature here) did the first.

Time has been unkind to the Terminator series. The distinct lack of continuity with its forbear’s underlines the anachronistic and unnecessary nature of this movie. A blatant attempt to milk a highly original and explosive franchise has unbalanced the quality presented in two excellent films.

The first movie: tight, edgy, raw and drenched with the B-Movie hose. The second an enjoyable yet excessive sci-fi opera that indulged all of James Camerons’ grandiose intentions; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines does very little to emulate the style or substance of Cameron’s initial realisation, doing little more than re-treading old ground. The opportunity to depict the post-apocalyptic events of the war with the machines was postponed for what we can only imagine to be a fourth instalment, if Arnie can bring himself to pick up those barbells again as he approaches sixty. What we’re left with feels like filler, punctured with blandness, inevitability and a dearth of stylistic flair. Distance and change, far from being a reinvigorating factor, has only served to stifle.

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