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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Movie review by Greg Carlson

For a relatively outmoded, 55-year-old action hero whose best work took place what seemed like ages ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger does his thing just like that other unstoppable mechanized force, the Energizer Bunny.  He keeps on coming, with a relentlessness that somehow transforms audience boredom into something resembling admiration, if not respect.  While the same certainly cannot be said for the wooden thespian’s “call to serve” as a potential gubernatorial candidate in sunny California, seeing the impassive hulk in his Terminator leathers conjures a weirdly comforting nostalgia.  It’s hard to believe the franchise was born nearly two decades ago, when Ronald Reagan inhabited the White House.

While James Cameron shrewdly morphed the bad Terminator into a good one for 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the basic personality of the killer cyborg has remained intact all the way through the latest installment (and if “Rise of the Machines” is as monstrous a hit as the previous outing, there is little doubt we will be visited at least once more by the metallic juggernaut).  By now, of course, the Terminator is as ensconced in our popular culture as Frankenstein’s monster, with catchphrases like “Hasta la vista, baby,” and “I’ll be back” fused in the brains of millions.

Cameron is not behind the camera for “T3,” but director Jonathan Mostow, who showed much promise in his effectively-staged action sequences in “U-571” and “Breakdown” proves a solid choice to take the reins.  Fans will undoubtedly argue which of the three Terminator movies is their favorite, and that is a credit to Mostow – for merely holding his own in a world previously dominated by legendary control-freak Cameron.  “T3” is not without deep flaws, however, even if many are the result of things beyond the new director’s control.

First of all, the absence of Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong resonates deeply.  Replacing the reportedly troubled Furlong, Nick Stahl struggles to match the brooding intensity of future leader John Connor, but never equals the kind of haunting, cornered-animal quality that was the signature of his predecessor.  The same goes for Claire Danes, who plays veterinarian Kate Brewster.  Granted, it is unfair to compare her bewildered, out-of-the-loop character with Hamilton’s commanding powerhouse, but there is little doubt that she just doesn’t quite discharge automatic weapons with the same verve as Sarah Connor.

Plots of time-travel movies, especially ones that are populated by wicked human-like androids hell-bent on assassination, are generally unwise to scrutinize too closely.  Suffice it to say that once again, everything boils down to machine versus humankind, with John Connor the fated survivor who must take on the self-aware computer system that threatens anything comprised of blood and bones.  And that’s where “T3” delivers its payload.  As the TX, or Terminatrix, icy Kristanna Loken one-ups the hair-raising potency of Robert Patrick’s T1000 (even though she does not employ exactly the same kind of cool, liquid metal visual effects).  Loken is not nearly as good an actor as Patrick, but the filmmakers try to make up for it by giving the robo-babe a morphing, bionic arm that, among other things, doubles as a flamethrower.  One look at the TX, and you know that Arnold’s “obsolete design” T101 will have his work cut out for him.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/7/03.

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