Terminator 3: 
Rise of the Machines (2003) 

Alan:

Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone: TV Guide:


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is, as expected, another absolutely perfect summer film. 2003 can now, without a doubt, be described as the best year of movies in history and the end of the year finale of Matrix Revolutions and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be the twin cherries on this fantastic cinematic sundae. 

In the tradition of other great sequels, T3 takes everything that was awesome from the earlier films, cuts out the filler and ramps up the action to the absolute threshold of imagination. In a year already loaded with some of the best car chases and action sequences ever filmed (Matrix Reloaded, X-2, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, The Hulk, Final Destination 2) Terminator 3 may have fallen victim to a "been there, seen that" problem inherent to it's late summer release date. This, of course, is not the case in the least.  The action sequences are fresh and dynamic and the entire film injects the Terminator mythology with a new darkness and sly self effacing wit.

It's 10 years since the events in T2 and having prevented the Apocalypse John Conner should be happy and living a life that is not pre-ordained by nuclear holocaust and his required leadership for the survival of the species. Unfortunately, the grown up Conner cannot help but feel the threat of the future. He lives "off the grid" working odd jobs and keeping his identity unknown. This turns out to have been a good idea since the future is still written and we soon find out that it has merely been postponed. The new model terminator, the beautiful and deadly T-X, is dispatched to the past to not only eliminate Conner but the children who will one day become his lieutenants in the final battle between humans and machines. As in T2, the T-101 is also reprogrammed and sent back to protect Conner and also the Mother of the resistance, his future wife Kate Brewster. Brewster's father coincidentally is the General who has his finger on the trigger of the dreaded A.I. Skynet. 

Many of the reviews I've read have lamented the loss of Terminator creator and director James Cameron. It's interesting how loud they cry for a director who they have in the past always derided as a over-the-top egotistical B-Movie hack. Cameron has never received the credit he deserves and only now in his absence do the hypocrite reviewing community finally acknowledge his art. The new director, Jonathan Mostow does a fantastic job of picking up the reigns and steering the franchise in an exciting new direction. The time between these sequels requires a change of style to keep the original story fresh and Mostow does this masterfully. His action directing is first rate and I hope he will continue to helm the Terminator films through the 4th and possibly 5th installments. (I believe, based on the conclusion of this film, that at least 2 more films are required to finish the story.)

As I said, the action sequences in this movie are excellent. The car chase near the beginning of the film employs a 100-ton Champion crane that is used to create an orgy of destruction that kept me smiling and jaw-dropped for the entire sequence.  Other fantastic special effects include nuclear blasts at the beginning and end of the film, an action packed destruction filled fight at the Skynet labs where we get to see some of the prototype Terminators as well as mini versions of those cool Skynet hoverships.   And finally the T-X herself is an excellent upgrade to the T-1000 series that was introduced in the last film. She comes complete with internal weaponry including a energy cannon that has awesome destructive power, the ability to remote operate any mechanical device including cars and other Terminators, and she is made of the shape shifting liquid metal that allows her to take on the form of anything and anyone she touches and restore herself after being temporarily destroyed. The special effects in the film are fantastic and the blending of CGI with real life stuntwork is invisible and flawless.

The actors all do great work as well. Nick Stahl (Bully, In the Bedroom) takes over the role of John Conner. He gives the character a maturity and seriousness that was slightly lacking in the whiney slacker teen formerly played by Edward Furlong. Claire Danes plays Kate Brewster perfectly as a normal person who is suddenly thrown into the world of Skynet and the Terminators without knowing the background that helps Conner cope with the situations. Newcomer Kristanna Loken is perfect as the sexy emotionless and deadly T-X.  She doesn't have the menace that Robert Patrick had as the T-1000 but I do love the ass-kicking girl characters that have become the standard in today's action flicks.  And finally, bringing an enormous amount of brevity to his most famous role, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the original model Terminator perfectly. Even though he's not the same unit from the last film, we know that he's one of the good guys and will protect John for as long as he is able to function. (We do find out an interesting future fact regarding this Terminator's relationship with John.)  I don't think "He'll be Back" again except maybe as a digitally created cameo, so this was a perfect swan song for his portrayal of the character.

T3 is not quite as good as T2 but it is an excellent start to the continuation of the storyline. As the final chapter in a trilogy it fails miserably because it leaves far to many questions unanswered and doesn't resolve anything. T4 and T5 are now a necessity. For one of the last smashing, crashing and bashing acts of the summer season it's a great capstone.