Review: “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”

With a new team behind it and some hokey early trailers, there’s been a lot of concern over whether this James Cameron-less entry in the Terminator franchise would fly. The good news is it does, it may not soar like the first two films but this is a worthy successor and probably the best you can get considering the passage of years and the changing of the guard.

As far as this Summer goes its certainly one of the big success stories of the whole season, and the fact the hype while high has been tempered by so-so ad campaign reaction is a good thing as anticipation level is at a nice medium level whilst plenty of stuff that never made the shorts are in here to delight and surprise first time round viewers. This was never a dynamo place for acting skill but its good to see Arnie back in the role even if the role itself feels a lot less substantial than before.

In the first film he was a one-dimensional evil baddie, in the second he was actually a quite well-developed and fleshed out character. This time he’s like a combination of the two – the character is similar to the early scenes of T2 but even more cold and robotic – this guy has an odd sense of unpredictability around him which you never saw in the other two movies, but its interesting nonetheless.

Stahl & Danes give good depth to underwhelming elements, the relief is that short of one or two not-so-convincing coincidences she’s of little relevance to the story but despite a little bit of overly hysterical early on, Danes manages to hold her own and even improves along the way. Stahl is a lot better than Edward Furlong, this John has become a spunky-yet-grungy rebel of sorts but with a more human touch and even though towards the end he does become a little grating, your far more welcome to have him there than Furlong.

Kristana Loken is the new Terminatrix – a tough, curvy, killing machine with gorgeous skin, a sexy red croc-leather vest & pants number, and all sorts of nifty new gadgets – its lesbian chic with violence. We always had an in-depth report about the skills of the previous two Terminators, here though its never really elaborated on as to the limits of her power.

A combination of both metal endoskeleton surrounded by liquid metal, this gives her all the chameleonic abilities of the T2 killer but also has the advantage of lots of built in complex weapons from a wall-busting particle beam to a nifty old flamethrower – and the ability to hack in and control computer systems. The tricks used to locate her victims from using a phone to testing blood are quite fun little ideas. The actress hasn’t got the cold act down completely right but does good work and gets to be an essential part in all the film’s best visuals.

Cameron remains one of the few truly epic filmmakers at work today – he knows how to shoot things with scale and combine personal stories with awesome action set pieces in a way almost no other director has ever been able to match – at least as consistently anyhow. In his first two films “Breakdown” and “U-571” Mostow showed he knew how to work pacing, fast action, and a solid story together in an interesting albeit contained fashion. He may not have Cameron’s artistry in creating shots which look like art, but he is quickly learning the skill of shooting action on camera and giving it a lot of power.

The result is a modern day action movie with more an emphasis on pacing and pretty visuals than story or exploring something deeper (the script is solid but does have holes and skips elaborating some important moments). There’s no real surprises or moments of jaw-dropping awe like the liquid metal tricks, instead it’s a more adrenalin-pumping, evened out, streamlined racy number. A good comparison of T2 to T3 would be “Das Boot” and “U-571,” the former a real epic film and cinema classic, the latter a surprisingly kick ass action ‘movie’ event.

The action sequences are spectacular, most notably a car chase early on involving cop cars, ambulances and a giant moving crane which literally PLOWS through suburban LA and causes so much destruction its jaw-dropping. Many, including myself, were highly disappointed with the much hyped car chase sequence of “The Matrix Reloaded” which contained so much digital elements and FX trickery that it left us feeling cold.

Not here, everything here is real and practical effects, and has more diversity to it so that the action really has IMPACT along with being a stunner to watch. The sequences go on and on with the action rarely ebbing from a funeral home breakout, to the T-101 & the TX smashing each other with porcelain urinals in a particularly brutal fight in a staff bathroom.

Another impressive element is the keeping in of the gore. In a time when films are too easily conforming to the PG-13 mold, its good to see a film keep it nasty. A surprising lot of the violence does occur offscreen but the sound has just as much impact, so when the few real gross bits do happen (esp. one involving taking control of a cop car) it really shocks you. An added element is the humour – the script works the humour into the story much better than before – there’s more obvious attempts at gags but it takes itself utterly seriously and never winks at the camera as such. Arnie in particular delivers some pretty good deadpan remarks.

On an effects level the CG does go into overdrive every now and then – but there’s a lot of practical elements here too which really help a lot. The visions of the future are quite awe inspiring, but there’s no real shots that make you sit back and go wow in realism like some of T2’s still standard-setting liquid metal effects.

Marco Beltrami’s score is somewhat lacking, and whilst the script is a solid and develops in an interesting direction, there’s some big elements which are brushed over whilst the ending may leave fans with some ambiguity as in some ways the the themes spread throughout the whole film kinds of thumbs its nose at the whole point of the other two movies (ie. no fate).

A lot of this could be due to the short 109 minute runtime, and some recutting with extra footage could’ve really helped flesh it out more. Still, for those moviegoers let down by this Summer’s lacklustre fare should be quite happy with what’s here. No classic, just a damn good piece of entertainment.