“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” had to do one thing in order to satisfy me; stay true to the original Terminator saga. Lucky me, it does. Lucky the film, it works. John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s screenplay places of all the missing pieces in just right places. Not only does the story manage to make some sense after following the seemingly dead-end conclusion of “T2,” it makes room for a possible 4th installment.
The story is simple, but in theory it will have you thinking throughout. As each detail is revealed, you will involuntarily link it back to the original “Terminator” series. I found every logical connection, but I am no “Terminator” scholar. But I suspect most other moviegoers aren’t as well, and will be just as satisfied as I am.
Set in the near-future, we find out the world didn’t exactly end in 1997 as expected. A super-advanced machine, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), is sent back with a blacklist of several people she is supposed to take out. Each name on the list represents a person destined to become a key player in the resistance to fight off the machines. The T-X soon goes to work after arriving in the present day, but of course her main objective is to kill John Connor (Nick Stahl, replacing the Edward Furlong).
Also sent back is the T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the machine whose job is to protect John Connor. That mission however may be easier said than done, as it is said in his own words, “I am an obsolete design.” Plus, we soon learn of yet another important person needing T-101’s services; Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). I will not reveal her importance, but I will say it all leads up to her being 2nd-in-command when or if nuclear fallout occurs.
After the main characters are introduced, we learn of a mysterious computer virus that has already taken control of the public net-sector, and is quickly moving to take over the nation's defense systems. The only way to stop it is to use Skynet, the entity of Cyberdyne once thought to have been destroyed after the events of “T2.” The government wants to use Skynet, although its designer, Kate's father, Robert Brewster (David Andrews), fears that it isn't ready. When John and Kate learn that activating the now-dormant Skynet system will commence the evens that lead up to Judgment Day, it will become a race of who can get to the system first.
Of course nobody will expect anything superior to Cameron’s previous two “Terminators,” but John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian definitely give us a passing script without ever failing the true fans of the Cameron’s masterpieces. It will take audiences some time to adjust, but audiences will always know they are watching a “Terminator.”
I am slightly disturbed by the negative reaction from a few critics who have shunned the film’s choice for casing super-model Kristanna Loken as the T-X. I submit she may not be the scariest looking person alive, but then again neither is Robert Patrick, the original T-1000 from “T2: Judgment Day.” In my opinion, Loken succeeds as the drone-faced assassin sent back to terminate Connor and everyone on her blacklist. Cinematographer Don Burgess (Spiderman) captures Loken in just the right positions in all the right lighting in every scene to make her look just as threatening as Patrick’s T-1000.
The action in “T3” is first-rate, with its own highway chase scene that easily competes with (and I believe better than) “The Matrix Reloaded” as an adrenaline pumping showcase of car crashes and explosions. The special effects are beautiful too, and best of all it doesn’t infringe on the delicate nature that is the “Terminator Legacy” no longer in the protective hands of master filmmaker James Cameron.
In “T3,” the controls are given to Jonathan Mostow, wherein “U-571” he proved he understands suspense. But this is his first major action film, at a time when most action films are tossed to amateur so-called directors hailing from MTV, music videos and commercials. Mostow knew he had massive sized budged, but he also knew he was making a “Terminator.” and not a “Charlie’s Angels.”
The film, like its predecessors, is told in a serious tone. While there is plenty of time for humor, such as Schwarzenegger’s T-101 taking the time to find the perfect pair of sunglasses, the dark and gloomy essence still hangs over our heads the way it did in the first two films. Maybe because both “T2” and the original were so impressive in the CGI area, that even the next-millennium “T3” couldn’t disguise the franchise, but instead make us remember what it must be like for someone knowing that nuclear war is just around the corner. Kudos to Stahl, who portrays Connor just as good as Furlong ever did.
When we first see Connor, he is a man who lives in the shadows, choosing to live alone and off the grid, where as if he had an address, telephone number or Mastercard, his identity and location could be traced. After seeing what he went though trying to evade the persistent T-1000 years ago, it is no wonder why he is afraid of detection. And we feel his confusion. How can one fathom knowing he will one day lead a resistance against the machines created by man after the nuclear war started by man, ends. We think about this and are reminded of the previous “Terminators,” and because of that; “T3” succeeds where I was almost certain it would fail.
The filmmakers gamble by weighting the best action sequences of the movie near the beginning. But after such a spectacle that shows the T-101 hanging from a moving 100 ton crane as the T-X smashes him into cars and buildings, we should forgive the less impressive finale. And because the film pauses from the usual summer fireball-fest formula, we are able to absorb the new information that is beginning to resemble the previous films. We see where the future is taking us, and we anticipate “Terminator 4.”
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