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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines By Matt Singer
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the first R-rated film I saw in a movie theater. I absolutely loved it: the action, the humor, the cutting edge 1991 special effects dazzled my preteen mind. It was basically the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Twelve years later, the Terminator series is back for Rise of the Machines, minus series creator James Cameron and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner. Even John Conner is played by a different actor; Nick Stahl instead of Edward Furlong. The only returning star is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator. Now the films’ R rating does not even give me pause. Times have changed, but there is still more life left in Terminator 3 than you’d expect.
When Rise opens, Stahl’s Conner is laying low. Even though the 1997 date that was supposed to signal the start of the Judgment Day War with machines came and went, he doesn’t have a home or phone number so any possible future machines cannot come looking for him. A freak motorcycle accident leads to a meeting with former hookup Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) just as the new T-X Terminator returns to our time. Played by supermodel Kristanna Loken, the T-X (or Terminatrix) strikes an imposing figure, in a wow-what-kind-of-men-must-SHE-date way. Despite her impressive arsenal (and somewhat vague abilities), she is not as scary a villain as either Robert Patrick’s T-1000 or even Schwarzenegger himself from the first Terminator.
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Naturally a Schwarzenegger model Terminator is also sent to earth at the same time as the T-X, and before long Rise of the Machines cranks out the special effects and violence. Pauses are allowed occasionally for the actors to breathe and speak a few lines, but make no mistake: this is a big-time action movie. There are several chases, replete with explosions and countless crashes, and a couple of fun hand-to-hand battles between the Terminators (Interestingly, there are noticeably less guns and gun-related imagery than in Terminator 2). The shame here is that the rare quiet moments actually work. Schwarzenegger, back in his most famous role, has a blast getting tons of laughs and generally looking like he’s having a grand time (The guy made something like $30 million for the role, so you can understand his delight). Stahl slips into the John Conner role impressively, and he and Danes look like they belong together on-screen. Unfortunately, at 110 minutes, more character-oriented scenes are abandoned to make room for as many chases as possible. Personally I would have added another ten minutes to give us a few more John and Terminator scenes.
In Terminator 2, the cyborgs and the SkyNet computer system that spawned them was attributed to Cyberdyne corporation, and there was so much anti-corporate imagery you had to cut through it with a hatchet. This time around, I don’t recall hearing Cyberdyne’s name come up once; the potential machine threat comes from the United States government and military. After Enron, and with Afghanistan and Iraq in recent memory, it’s surprising to see the series take it’s anti-corporate, anti-technology message and make it more antimilitary and antigovernment. It’s an interesting slant, especially since corporations are now an even easier target than they were in the equally recessed days of 1991. I’d be fascinated to hear director Jonathan Mostow speak about his views about America’s current foreign policy.
The Terminator and Terminator 2 had a nice symmetry They felt like a complete story. There is no reason for Rise of The Machines to exist from a story perspective; make no mistake that this is cash-grabbing sequel. But at least Mostow is a superb director of action and his film isn’t nearly the embarrassment it could have been. You leave the theater feeling that you got your money’s worth and the Terminator reputation intact. This time, there is an open ending left to provide easy access to further sequels. Whether you want another film is irrelevant. “Desire is irrelevant...I am a machine!” Arnold reminds us as The Terminator, and when it comes to big summer sequels he is right. The Hollywood machine doesn’t care about desire, it cares about potential box office. But the lease they can do is what they accomplished here: entertain you while they take your money.