Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" (2003) Review




"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" (2003) Review

There are times when it seems to me that the third entry in the "TERMINATOR" franchise is regarded as nothing more than an afterthought with the fans. Whereas the first two movies are regarded as masterpieces and the fourth movie is regarded as a showpiece for actor Sam Worthington and the scene for star Christian Bale’s behind-the-camera rant. 

"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" is set at least a decade after the events of the 1991 movie. John Connor, now a young man around twenty, has been off the grid for a few years, drifting from one area to another, while taking on the occasional odd job. Because of this, Skynet – the self-aware, artificially intelligent system that became humanity’s enemy – has been unable to locate him during this time period. Instead, Skynet focuses its attention upon John’s future lieutenants, including a young veterinarian assistant named Kate Brewster. Skynet sends a more sophisticated cyborg assassin named T-X back to the early 21st century to kill Kate and John’s other lieutenants. Unbeknownst to Skynet, the Resistance sends back another reprogrammed T-850 Terminator cyborg to the same era to assist John and Katherine . . . and keep them alive.

”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” pretty much followed the same formula that dominated the first two films. In all three movies, Skynet sends a cyborg back to the past to prevent John Connor from becoming the Resistance’s future leader. And in the second and third movies, the Resistance sends a reprogrammed cyborg to save John. But there are some minor differences in this third film. One, ”TERMINATOR 3” marked the first time that James Cameron did not participate in the production of one of the franchise’s film. And two, this movie also marked the first time that Sarah Connor was not a major character. Due to Cameron’s lack of participation in the film and because Jonathan Mostow was hired to direct, ”TERMINATOR 3” has not been highly regarded by film critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, this movie did a lot better overseas than it did in the U.S.

I can see how this film had acquired such a lackluster reputation after viewing the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. The movie’s early period seemed filled with scenes that struck me as sophomoric and cheap. John Connor struck me as a melancholic slacker for whom I found difficult to harbor any symphathy, let alone interest. The arrivals of both the T-850 and the T-X came off as rather silly. The T-850 arrived at a stripper bar for women, where he stole some clothes from an effeminate male stripper. And after killing a woman and stealing her clothes and car, the T-X encountered a cop and resorted to inflating her cleavage in order to distract him. Mind you, the scene featuring the T-850 at the stripper bar struck me as mildly amusing. But I was not amused by watching the T-X inflate her bust in order to vamp a cop. It was ridiculous and slightly insulting. After saving Kate from the T-X, the T-850 and John get involved in an over-the-top car chase that featured a loud and aggressive truck driver that struck me as more obnoxious than funny. However, once the car chase ended, Mostow’s direction, along with John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s screenplay, elevated ”TERMINATOR 3” into something truly worthwhile.

The T-850 led both John and Sarah to a cemetery, where they found a cache of weapons that had been stored by Sarah Connor. Audiences also learned that poor Sarah had contracted leukemia before succumbing rather quickly. The T-850 also revealed that Judgment Day – originally thought to commence on August 29, 1997 – was scheduled to begin within a few hours (on July 24, 2004). Apparently, the U.S. Air Force took control of Cyberdyne Systems and the Skynet project, following the events in ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY”. And the Skynet project is being headed by Kate's father, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster. Not only did the cast’s performance improved greatly following the movie’s Act I, the movie’s plot acquired a sense of both urgency and pathos, as John, Kate and T-850 raced to prevent Judgment Day. Their efforts led to an exciting, yet horrifying bloodbath initiated by the T-X at Cyberdyne System’s new location, and a few tragic moments that allowed ”TERMINATOR 3” to have the best – in my opinion – ending in the entire franchise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to portray the new T-850 cyborg sent to protect John Connor and Kate Brewster. I was amazed to see that he managed to create a second new twist on the T-850 character. In ”THE TERMINATOR”, his cyborg was nothing more than a relentless killing machine. In the 1991 movie, his T-850 seemed childishly thrilled by the slang and rituals taught to him by a young John Connor. But his T-850 in ”TERMINATOR 3” is not the same being that John knew as a boy. Schwarzenegger’s T-850 is a no-nonsense mentor who is exasperated by John and Kate’s unwillingness to consider the possibility that there are some events in time that one cannot change. I had feared that this new T-850 would be a rehash of the one featured in ”TERMINATOR 2” and was happily surprised that it did not.

As I had stated earlier in this review, I was not impressed by the early portrayal of John Connor in this movie. I could blame actor Nick Stahl, but I now realize that the lackluster quality of the character is not his fault. He was simply doing his job and portraying John as the script demanded. I understand John’s mental ennui, considering his situation. But it bored me. Thankfully, the revelation of a possible new Judgment Day lit a fire under John and Stahl did a superb job in infusing all of the fire and desperation into his character. And by the end of the film, he gave what I believe was possible the finest moment in the entire movie - let alone in the entire franchise - when his character learned a powerful lesson. I am also grateful that Stahl managed to create a strong screen chemistry with Claire Danes. The latter portrayed Kate Brewster, the feisty veterinarian assistant, who finds herself swept up the chaos caused by the two time traveling cyborgs and the threat to humanity’s future. She was very skillful in conveying Kate’s outrage and confusion over the events that threatened to overtake her. At one point in the film, John compared Kate to his late mother. Personally, I never saw the resemblance. Although Kate seemed as strong-willed as Sarah Connor, I got the impression that she was a different character altogether. Although emotional, Danes’ Kate seemed more level-headed . . . and a lot saner.

There were other performances that impressed me. It was nice to see Earl Boen again, who reprised his role as the criminal psychologist, Dr. Peter Silberman, for the second time. He had a rather nice scene in which his Dr. Silberman tried to comfort Kate after she has witnessed the acts of the T-X. And for once, he seemed to consider that what he had witnessed in the past might be real. Dave Andrews gave a solid performance as Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, Kate’s father. Thanks to Andrews’ performance, one could see from whom Kate had inherited her level-headed personality. And he also managed to skillfully convey a sense of horror over the implications of Skynet’s threat to humanity. I have noticed that the more dangerous the cyborg in this franchise, the smaller it seemed to be. The cyborgs have ranged from the tall and hulking body-builder Schwartzenegger, to the slim and athletic looking Robert Patrick in the second film, to the very feminine Kristanna Loken. And thanks to her performance, Loken managed to convey all of the menace and danger of a relentless killer with very few lines, just as effectively as Schwartzenegger and Patrick before her.

I realize that ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” will never overcome its low reputation with many film critics and movie fans. All one has to do is watch the first fifteen to twenty mintues and be tempted to watch another movie . . . or walk out of the movie theater. I know I was tempted to do the latter, when I first saw this film. But once”TERMINATOR 3” got past that silly nonsense; it turned out to be an exciting movie with an ending filled with a level of pathos that the other three movies never reached. In the end, I believe it was worthwhile.

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