Rise of the Machines
review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 4 July 2003
Terminator franchise is a brawny business. With a legend
built on a mysterious combination of Jim Cameron's vision and
Arnold's body, the films have earned industry respect as well as
raving acolytes. The design hasn't shape-shifted with each
incarnation (like the remarkable Alien films). The Terminator
movies repeat by definition -- they're all about time loops, after
the series retains a combination of surprise and self-consciousness,
owing in part to heady SF-ish conundrums (most famously, John Connor
sends his comrade Reese [Michael Biehn] back in time to become his
father), but also startling visual and conceptual innovations
(Arnold as villain, Arnold as hero, Sarah Connor's biceps). This
even though the basic Terminator tale is one of Cameron's
favorites, in which a reluctant but sturdy girl is beset by fate and
aided by a good-looking boy.
this means that Jonathan (U-571) Mostow's gutsy endeavor to
crash the franchise, T3: Rise of the Machines, can't possibly
meet expectations. And still, it comes hard.
it does okay. A noisier, burlier version of T2, overlaid with
a soberer vision of the future, T3 is compelling almost in
spite of itself. Though officially distanced from Cameron (who's
otherwise engaged these days), John Brancato and Michael Ferris'
screenplay mostly amplifies what's been done already: more
explosions, more car crashes, more burning and shredding of the now
wholly outdated T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose
fifty-five-year-old body remains its own spectacular effect), and
more penetrations of and by the slippery-silvery Terminator, here,
the T-X (Kristanna Loken).
these elaborate, fast-cut stunts, T3 is a noisy battering ram
of a movie. But other moments reveal an unexpected range of tone,
from cleverly affecting to darkly funny to downright apocalyptic.
John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now a twenty-two-year-old loner,
self-medicating (Budweiser and downers) when he's not zooming around
on his motorcycle. In voiceover, he explains that he's trying to
"live off the grid" (no phone, no address), so he can't be
found. This even though he wants to believe that, ten years ago, he
and his mom (Sarah/Linda Hamilton, now dead of leukemia and fondly
remembered) stopped Skynet's annihilation of the planet, a.k.a.
"Judgment Day." Still, he's given to repeating his mom's
mantra (actually, his own, passed on by Reese in 1984) that
"The future has not been written."
poor kid is definitely his mother's son. His nightmare visions look
a lot like hers, featuring the familiar metallic and red-eyed
Terminators marching over human skulls, while also envisioning his
eventual triumph. This time, that image has John standing on a pile
of urban rubble, a tattered U.S. flag behind him. And then he wakes
up, and his nation is as dirty and mean as ever, defined by its
heedless nationalism, all-purpose capitalism, and rapacious
military. So, while sober generals and eager techs wrestle with a
global computer virus that apparently needs Skynet turned on to stop
it (uh-oh), restive savior-to-be JC is on the run from monsters in
so, T3 follows its predecessors in using John to explore the
tension between destiny and free will. The obligatory romance
involves John's former high school classmate, Kate (Claire Danes).
Presently a veterinarian (recall Sarah's affection for her iguana),
Kate is not a little hesitant to be a next-generation "mother
of the future." She brings added consequence, in that her dad
Robert (David Andrews) is the head supersecret weapons designer in
charge of Skynet. Apparently, Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) died for
nothing, but Robert suffers as well, condemned to utter the
atrocious line: "I've opened Pandora's Box!"
first moments on screen set her up for a bruising fall: shopping for
her upcoming marriage to Scott (Mark Famiglietti), Kate's dad
cancels a scheduled dinner. But even as Scott happily picks out
china patterns, she's looking bored and fretful. Within minutes,
he'll be splattered all over their bedroom, freeing Kate up to hook
up with John (whom she remembers as a "delinquent":
"Look at you, sitting there like the bad-boy thing still
sweet and smart as Danes plays Kate, this sort of heartfelt
relationship stuff is, as always, only a means to get to the
machines. And if it's impossible to forget the particular evil
connoted by Robert Patrick's ears, T3's girl Terminator, clad
in red leather, holds her own. Somewhere between thrilling and
overkilling, the film deftly cuts between scenes showing her arrival
and that of the T-101. The T-X first shows up inside a Beverly Hills
boutique window, which means that she copies a mannequin's form --
lithe with a perfectly glassy face.
updated, this model sticks her digital finger directly into a cell
phone to locate targets (a long way from the T-101's use of a phone
book or even the T-1000's cop-car interface), and includes a
built-in DNA reader, initiated when she licks blood (nasty). She
also slams into action with an unnerving iciness, and with precious
little dialogue. Drawing from the feline movements of the T-1000,
she's even more resilient; after the T-101 lists her many
improvements, John observes, "So, she's the anti-Terminator
Terminator?" 'Bout sums it up. Her only moments of nano-teched
pleasure -- tight little half-smiles -- are visible when she's
slamming the Terminator into buildings, roads, walls, cars, and,
during one brutally lengthy throw-down, a series of urinals.
the now woefully obsolete T-101 understands his own limits, as well
as their context -- namely, the restrictions of human imagination.
This might be the best way to describe the film's failings, its
inability to break out of the framework laid out in Cameron's first
and second versions of the loop. For all the dazzling effects and
showy crash-and-burns (and every vehicle the T-X comes near explodes
sooner or later), it's a family drama, with erring parents and
rebellious kids. The survival of the species is backdrop.
the T-101 remains circumspect about the dire future awaiting John
and Kate, he's determined to complete his mission, to protect them,
to be the best, most committed, and most confounding daddy that
either of them will ever have. (John repeats this observation for
you, in case you've forgotten that Sarah said it last time out.)
Making this machine the best dad (and another machine the absolutely
worst mom, I suppose), T3 follows through on T2's
schizzy take on human messiness and technical efficiency. Being as
it's a sequel, and everything must be bigger, here the consequences
for the conflict are worse, the machines' failings even more
unavoidable. As decent and paternal as the T-101 wants to be, it's
stuck. A machine, it can only do what it's programmed to do. You
know, like a lot of dads.
route to his predictably sensational end, the machine is by turns
witty masochist (when Kate shoots him in the face, he literally
chews the bullet and admonishes her: "Don't do dat") and
blithely amoral sadist (as the couple to be reminisce, he notes,
"Your levity is good, it relieves tension and de fear of
death"). Even as it makes apposite use of Stan Winston's
gory-face makeup and the still excellent evil-Terminator liquid
metal effects (digital artists for the X-Men and Hulk
series, take note), the film is still snarky.
is the detail that makes the series feel fresh despite its many
repetitions. It has always had a clear sense of humor about the
Terminator, an extreme incarnation of blockbuster violence if ever
there was one. Mostow's film is rife with jokes, destructive and
deconstructive. Of course, it refers to the first films' famous
lines ("She's back," "Get in if you want to
live"), but it also makes shrewd comedy of the ever-refined
Arnoldian Self. Schwarzenegger is especially good at this, sternly
amiable about his iconic status (such self-deprecation will likely
help in his political future), maintaining his straight face no
matter how much goo and metal and fried skin it has hanging from it.
T-101 enters this film out in a tumbleweedy desert, with the usual
electrical zapping and thunder cracking. Making his way to a
honky-tonk bar (it worked so well in T2), he marches in stark
naked, the Ladies' Night patrons giving the point of view camera the
once-over as he scans the room for the appropriate costume. He
zeroes in on the leather-clad gay dancer, demanding, "Take off
your clothes." Gyrating to "Macho Man," the dancer
hisses back, "Talk to the hand!" The Big T obliges,
leaning into the guy's palm and growling, "Now." And
that's enough of that scene.
to Arnold emerging from the bar, wearing the dancer's gear, complete
with Bootsy Collins-style star-shaped sunglasses. As this moment
suggests, the film loves itself too much. But it also understands
Billy D. Lucas
Walter von Huene
George E. Sack Jr.
John D. Brancato
John D. Brancato
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult