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Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (R)
Warner Bros.
Official Site
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Producers: Mario Kassar, Hal Lieberman, Joel B. Michaels, Andrew G. Vajna, Colin Wilson
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Earl Boen

Rating: out of 5

The main question any self-respecting fan would have regarding Terminator 3 would be, what the hell is it this time? As $514 million worth of worldwide viewers observed in 1991 at the end of Terminator 2, having destroyed every last damned chip of advanced equipment brought in from the future, young Edward Furlong had, as he observed, gotten Cyberdyne by the balls. Still, the Terminator franchise is no longer connected with action auteur James Cameron and therefore has lost all pressing reason to exist so, wisely, plot is the last thing to be addressed; about halfway through the picture, we discover that the youthful John Conner hadn’t stopped Judgment Day, only postponed it. “Judgment Day,” proclaims the ever-stoical Arnold Schwarzenegger, “is inevitable.” Ah well… so much for the entire point of the previous installment.

As a wise Variety hack once observed, avoiding disaster is not necessarily the same thing as success. As an action movie, Terminator 3 is satisfying in the sense that it brings an unprecedented amount of rampant destruction to the screen, but totally irrelevant in a post-Matrix environment, or even post-Matrix Reloaded. What that series brought to the table was an emphasis on elaborately choreographed, near-operatic action sequences which redeemed the lifeless narrative surrounding them, as opposed to the two Terminator’s combination of pulpy but skilled narrative with non-stop action. But those two films practically reinvented the action genre, while T3 is more like a parodic remake of T2 than a sequel, as if someone wisely decided that, since living up to the bar would be impossible, imitation mixed with self-deprecation would have to do. So once again Arnold’s first stop after being wormholed back in time is a bar, but this time a male strip club. There’s a voice-over again (this time John Conner’s, but equally as terrible as Linda Hamilton’s). Even the f/x are largely unaltered, except for atomic-bomb explosions: Those have been vastly improved. (Oddly enough, some of the final hallway showdowns between man and machine resemble nothing so much as the climactic scenes of the unfairly maligned Robin Williams vehicle Toys, only not as cool.)

Some changes have been made, but they’re more like regressions than progress. In place of the typically ass-kicking female provided by Cameron, a quivering Claire Danes spends much of the film being smacked around and acting shrill (especially during the first car chase, which delights in reaction shots of her being tossed around helplessly). The only other female on the scene is a female Terminator who is urged by a screaming Danes toward the end to “Just die, you BITCH!” Furthermore, while Cameron’s films exploited with remarkable focus and lucidity fears of nuclear war, T3 is freaked out about everything under the sun. The female Terminator inflicts violence on kids (=threats to kids), at drive-in fast-food chains (=drive-by shootings and urban violence), and at even more haphazard locales (=those random shootings which have become sadly endemic recently). There’s also a healthy dose of T2’s original anti-technology paranoia filtered through The Matrix, and some elemental mistrust of the government’s trustworthiness and secretiveness.

None of this, however, will prepare you for the ridiculously unnerving ending, which appears to have been manufactured by the same branch of the government responsible for those post-Sept. 11 “We can be scared. Or we can be ready” ads. The planet explodes into an inevitable apocalypse as a solemn John Conner intones the lesson he’s learned: “Judgment Day couldn’t be prevented, only postponed. The challenge was to reach out and survive it together.” (Question: Why bother with the first two installments?) There’s a core of anger somewhere deep in there at a lack of governmental preparation for disaster, but it’s swallowed by the treacly pull-together spirit.

Still, T3 is a respectable performance that offers the snarky viewer plenty of alternate routes for contemplation besides passive absorption. Are the constant seeming deaths of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator followed by his increasingly implausible resurrections a clever metaphor for the actor’s career? Isn’t it great that such big advances in product placement have been made that, compared with the sledgehammer approach taken to promote Pepsi in T2, T3 offers merely one small and far more subtle plug for Budweiser? Isn’t it weird how Schwarzenegger’s career seems to constantly engage with the issue of absentee fathers, from being the perfect surrogate in T2 to learning to come to terms with divorce in Kindergarten Cop to learning the importance of family time in Jingle All The Way to this film, which offers a weird fillip that contributes to the recent strain of cinematic fathers (e.g., Royal Tenenbaum) who aren’t just neglectful but actively harmful to their kids? T3 has no real reason to exist, and it certainly isn’t so much a part of a franchise as an effect of it, but there’s no shame in not sucking and producing a relatively speedy and engaging self-parodic action film. No real glory either, but OK.

--Vadim Rizov


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