Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Review

As Graham Hill walked out after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ended, someone next to him gave the perfect one-line description of the film – “It’s like the Terminator meets Airplane!”. Was he right? Read on!

Terminator 3 is a film I really, REALLY wanted to like. The first film is a classic, the second an excellent sequel, and as the preview started all the boyhood enthusiasm for seeing a great sci-fi experience came flooding back. Unfortunately, just like when watching Alien Ressurection, that first few minutes of excitement was gradually worn down to a “why did they bother?” feeling of disappointment after an hour or so. The simple fact is that this Terminator sequel, while enjoyable as a summer movie, is not in remotely the same class as the previous two films in the series, despite the best efforts of the cast and special effects teams.

This film has a decent story that is crying to get out, but until the last few minutes doesn’t have the nerve to carry it through. Until then it is formulaic, and seems to be an endless series of explosions linked together by an unexpected flurry of gags! In fact, the humour is so relentless and intrusive that it constantly undermines the serious elements of the story, so that even if something sad does happen, the audience doesn’t need to worry because happily another gag will be on the way to lighten the mood right away…I won’t spoil the film by revealing plot details, but it must be said that after about 25 minutes I was thinking ‘enough jokes now, let’s get on with the story’ but they carried on throughout. I despair of the situation we seem to have reached in genre movies now, where nothing in sci-fi or horror seems to be able to be made without a wink to the audience which only serves to distance them from the plot and characters – but then perhaps that is what audiences really want? An intelligent, thoughtful film like Solaris that encourages the audience to think can’t find a big audience, but explosions and knowing humour seem to do the job nicely, don’t they…

Positives about the film? Well, I have to say that the cast make the film better than the story deserves – firstly, Arnold is the Terminator. No doubt. He looks in incredible shape, and tackles the part with obvious relish. After slating so much of the humour I have to say that a couple of jokes as played by Arnie are admittedly funny, and one involving his choice of sunglasses is priceless. Schwarzenegger really holds the attention, he’s still got that true star quality and I think it is his appeal which undoubtedly wills you into hoping the best for the film. Unfortunately he is let down by the story also. The latest trailer of T3 really portrayed this film as a serious effort with Arnold conflicted by ‘irrelevant desire’ but this aspect is hardly given any time to develop – indeed at some points I felt as if I had missed ten minutes of plot, as characters would appear out of nowhere with little explanation as to how they got there or why.

New additions to the Terminator cast include Nick Stahl and Claire Danes who both fill their roles extremely well. Nick Stahl is an excellent John Connor and leaves behind the slightly whiny kid of old, instead portraying a believably reluctant future hero. Claire Danes also does the utmost with her role, and it’s fun to see these two playing off each other effectively when considering how they affect the story. The TX, as played by Kristanna Loken, is an interesting character, and within the confines of a robotic role, Loken does what she can. The TX is not nearly as scary as Robert Patrick’s T-1000, but then her character seems more calculating than the T1000 with a nicely feminine, even sadistic streak that works well.

However, one cameo from a returning minor cast member really sums up this sequel – a relatively serious role has been turned into one used merely for comedic effect, and again it seems to suggest that the film can’t become serious sci-fi because it doesn’t want to do anything but entertain in the lightest way possible.

There is, of course, plenty of action in this film, but to be honest you don’t see much that’s new – two standout sequences are a decent chase sequence involving the truck seen in the teaser trailer, and a humdinger of a fight between the robots in a toilet that is one of the few times I really started to enjoy myself, with the two robots going out for as much porcelain throne destruction as possible! In fact as I said earlier, it’s moments like these that recall the Terminator magic of the previous films, and I dearly wish the rest of the film was as exciting, but it isn’t. In fact, at times, despite the big budget, it almost feels like a made-for-TV sequel. It’s not Johnathan Mostow’s direction that is at fault, as he conjures up the above great action sequences as well as some well realised battle scenes set in the future. It’s certainly not the fault of Stan Winston or the CGI teams, as the effects, while not startling (apart from some fantastic Terminator make-up on Arnold) are suitably impressive; I just feel that after the epic scope of the last film, all emotion has been pared down and what we are basically left with is 105 minutes of explosions.

It must have been a virtually thankless task to do this sequel – the pressure is enormous, and just like David Fincher with Alien 3, the chances of topping the previous Terminators, no matter how hard you try, are very slim. They did try, and in the last five or ten minutes show what really could have been – the ending is surprisingly good, with the scene set for a T4 sometime in the future. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say that it came close to capturing what a Terminator film should be about – not stuffed with humour, but a serious sc-fi story (heaven forbid!) involving man’s interaction with machines. But unfortunately, ten minutes out of an hour-and-three quarters isn’t enough for a film that so many of us have been looking forward to for years. However, I must say that the preview audience I was with seemed to be having a great time, laughing along throughout, so maybe it did do its job after all.

Now on to the final question – is it ‘Terminator meets Airplane‘? Well no, but in places it gets dangerously close.

Surely you can’t be serious? I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.

Graham Hill

Updated: Jun 27, 2003

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