Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

t3 IMDb

I feel bad for this movie. How do you possibly follow up the first two films, which are both marvels in terms of storytelling and special effects? Both of the earlier Terminator films paced the industry and took special effects to a new level. This third movie could have been halfway decent and still never live up to the standards the first two Terminator films set. What is missing here is James Cameron. He only produced this movie and was not involved in any of the story creation. His mind is obviously missing in this film, as it fails to live up to any kind of expectations people might have had for it. This third movie does its best to crap all over the legacy that was created over the course of the first two films.

We catch up with John Connor (now played by Nick Stahl) about a decade after the events of Terminator 2. He and his mother had seemingly succeeded in preventing Judgment Day, and Connor now lived a hermit life ‘off the grid’ just in case any other machines are sent back to find him. Spoiler alert, they are. The machines have sent back a new advanced Terminator called the T-X (Kristanna Loken). As she is unable to find Connor, the T-X begins to hunt down the long list of Connor’s future lieutenants during the war. As they had before, the humans have sent back a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect John, and just as he was before, the T-800 is severely outmatched by the more advanced T-X model. Eventually Connor hooks up with his Terminator protector, along with his future wife (Claire Danes). Together they try to outrun the T-X, and get to cover before Skynet goes active and destroys the world.

While the expectations for this movie were high, this third movie gets nowhere close to meeting them. There are so many rehashed stories from the first two movies, this one kind of feels old and stale by comparison. I also hated what they did with Sarah Connor. She is dead by the start of this movie, taken out by leukemia of all things. It doesn’t seem right that such a badass like Sarah Connor didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.

Arnold also seems to be phoning this one in, which is not something you usually get from him. He has made bad movies in the past sure, but he always seems to be giving his all to make them good. Terminator 3 was the last movie he did before becoming Governor of California, so perhaps his mind was on other things when he made this. Nick Stahl is fine as John Connor. I was surprised they didn’t get Edward Furlong to reprise the role as he would have been the right age, but turns out Furlong had some run ins with the law so was indisposed at the time.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie is the villain. I was actually really excited to see the new terminator be played by a woman. It sounded like a cool idea to pit her against the brute force of Arnie’s T-800. In reality, getting a model to play this role and not an accomplished actor was a big mistake. Lokan is clearly out of her depth here, overshadowed by even Arnie’s ‘hamming it up’ performance. She did not come across as threatening at all, mostly just annoying.

Terminator 3 never manages to reach the expectations set by its two predecessors. While these standards were unfair to impose on any movie, T3 never even gets close to meeting them and can really only be described as an extreme disappointment.

Rating: D

So this movie is the reason I never bothered watching the original two Terminator films. It’s not that the plot was impossible to follow if you haven’t seen the previous installments (it’s actually pretty easy to piece together the broad strokes), it’s that this is such an uninspired action flick.

When it was released I thought T3 was OK. That’s still my basic opinion of the movie, though I can now see that it doesn’t hold a candle to the first two. If Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t been really out of shape prior to casting and the new terminator model weren’t a hot lady, I doubt this would have got as much attention as it did. But Arnie’s transformation from dad bod to muscled hero and some fleeting glances of boobs are really the most unique things about this movie.

Not that it’s all bad. Claire Danes is introduced as John Conner’s (Nick Stahl) future wife and second in command, Kate Brewster. It was a nice touch to have Conner’s second be another strong woman, but her inclusion comes a bit out of the blue. She’s never even hinted at in the previous movies, which is out of character for the series. Everything in The Terminator and T2 were very connected.

I also enjoyed Stahl’s performance as Conner. Edward Furlong was not asked to reprise his T2 role due to a substance abuse problem. He might have delivered a great performance, but I’m happy with his replacement. Stahl is a little softer than how I imagine Furlong would have played it, which works against Danes’ performance. I can picture them as a couple, as well as a  military team.

Terminator 3 is entertaining, but nowhere near as good as the original two Terminator films. It did leave me thinking a lot about the alternate timeline that was created at the close of T2, and has got me cautiously excited for the upcoming Terminator: Genisys, which appears to completely screw with the past. Still, I feel like this installment can easily be skipped if you haven’t already seen it. Not much happens to effect the overall story (at least as far as I can tell), and there are much better action movies out there.

Rating: C+

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