In his book “You’re Only As Good As Your Next One,” former Orion studio chief Mike Medavoy writes about a feud his studio had with director James Cameron over The Terminator. Everyone thought the movie was great – including audiences, who were wildly enthusiastic – but Cameron believed it would have made more money had the studio given it a bigger promotional push. By 1991, Medavoy had moved to Tri-Star Pictures, which distributed the sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This time around, Cameron had nothing to complain about. The sequel was not only a heavily-hyped blockbuster, it was also a modern classic in the sci-fi genre. I remember sitting in the audience watching the movie 12 years ago. It was nothing short of a revelation. For the first time, I saw the spectacular special effect known as “morphing,” which was brilliantly used by Cameron to create first-rate suspense. This summer brings us Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Again, it arrives amid tons of hype. The difference is that Cameron is not involved this time, nor is actress Linda Hamilton. I was skeptical about whether anyone else could pull off T3, but director Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, U-571) does.
Nick Stahl takes over the role of John Conner (played by Edward Furlong in T2). Fans will remember that in the future, there is a nuclear war, after which humans and machines do battle for supremacy; John is said to be the leader of the humans, which is why Terminators keep coming back in time to try to kill him. Following the events depicted in the last film, John believes the nuclear war has been averted once and for all. He has erased all traces of his identity and roams the world aimlessly. We soon learn that a loophole has put destiny back on course. A new Terminator arrives to kill John and several other people who are eventually to become his lieutenants. Known as the Terminatrix, this being (played by Kristanna Loken) arrives in the form of a gorgeous – but deadly – woman. She is more advanced than her predecessors and has the capability to alter other machines to do her bidding.
Not far behind her is the regular Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whose mission is again to protect John. He must also watch over Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), whom John somewhat fatefully encounters. (We eventually learn that they are scheduled to have a rather significant meeting in the future as well.) The Terminator only wants to get John and Kate to safety, but they have other plans. The source of the future machine uprising is identified, and Kate’s father is inadvertently a part of it. They figure there’s a chance of halting the specific event that will ultimately cause the devastating chain of events. They may be right, provided the Terminatrix doesn’t get to them first.
I want to start with the humor of T3. The series has always relied on humor as much as on special effects and action. Who could forget such catchphrases as “I’ll be back” or “Hasta la vista, baby”? Well, T3 offers what is likely to become the catchphrase of the summer: “Talk to the hand.” Sure, it’s been around for years (Fran Drescher made it popular) but when you hear Arnold say it, the words take on a whole new meaning. There’s probably more humor in this movie than in the other two. About 99% of it hits the mark. The screenplay is packed with wit, which adds to the fun.
In addition to this column, I do movie reviews on several local radio stations here in Pennsylvania. Earlier this summer, a news reporter for one of those stations asked me if I thought T3 would live up to the monumental success of the previous film. I admitted that I wasn’t sure. T2 was a movie milestone because of the introduction of the morphing effect, which was one of the most mind-blowing effects ever produced up to that point. If T3 can’t come up with something as new and dazzling, I said, it might not work for audiences. How wrong I was. There’s nothing here effects-wise that is as revolutionary as morphing was; however, the way the effects are used gives the movie exactly the kind of punch that will enthrall viewers.
Mostow uses the effects to create action sequences that are unlike any put on screen ever before. T3 contains, for instance, one of the best chases I’ve ever seen. It involves such unlikely vehicles as a fire truck and a construction vehicle. The latter races down a city street with its crane arm extended to the side, smashing into buildings, cars, and whatever (or whoever) else is in the way. That’s just one of several unforgettable images in the chase. Later on, there’s a fight scene in a cemetery where the Terminator and the Terminatrix throw each other into (and through) tombstones. All the action in T3 is done with a spirit of originality; you can sense the filmmakers wanted to give the audience something different. Hallelujah!
The other important element to all three movies is that the acting is not secondary to everything else. Good actors are brought on board and allowed to play fully dimensional characters. In this case, Schwarzenegger (who is, was, and always will be perfect in this role) again makes the Terminator interesting despite being emotionless. Nick Stahl and Claire Danes are really good as well. Their solid ability to convey complex emotions is really vital at the end. The last scene comes totally unexpected, and the implications of it will be fascinating for anyone who has followed this series. In order for it to work (which it does), you really need to feel what John and Kate are experiencing. Stahl and Danes are so effective in their roles that the conclusion hits a powerful note.
Like I said, I wasn’t entirely sure that anyone could pull off a third Terminator movie, so the end result was very satisfying to me. It’s not as visionary as T2, nor is it likely to become that kind of classic. However, the movie ties the ideas and themes of all three films together nicely and adds a new perspective on it all at the end. Besides, in terms of summer action, Terminator 3 kicks The Matrix Reloaded’s ass.
( 1/2 out of four)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is rated R for sci-fi action/violence, language, and partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.
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