The third installment in The Terminator saga, called T3: The Rise of the Machines, is unpretentious, low-brow fun. After a season of bloated, manic-depressive spectacles like Hulk and Matrix Reloaded, T3′s more modestly scaled adventure feels refreshing. From Arnold Schwarzenneger’s tongue-in-cheek performance as the Terminator, to the movie’s Old School special effects, T3 radiates audience good-will and B-movie charm.
T3′s story picks up a few years after the massively popular second film left off. Although our fated nuclear holocaust was supposedly averted in T2, an apocalyptic battle between men and machines still rages in our near future. As before, a deadly cyborg is dispatched by the machines to assassinate the future rebel leader, John Connor, in our present day. The murderous robot is here played by the willowy blond actress Kristanna Loken. With shiny leather-clad limbs that mutate into deadly weapons, Loken’s a demonic amalgam of a Victoria’s Secret model and a swiss army knife. Schwartzenneger once again plays the Terminator sent by the human legions to protect the young Connor. The movie stages an elaborate chase scene. Two, equally unstoppable and insanely lethal robots pulverize LA county while cowering humanity, here incarnated by young actors Nick Stahl and Claire Danes, screams and runs.
T3′s box office competitors this summer are mostly such a dreary, cynical lot. It is tempting to give T3 high marks for its negative attributes: it is not obscenely ambitious, it is not overly reliant on CGI, and it does not bludgeon the spectator with over-the-top action scenes (although it has a few). Unfortunately, T3 is also a major aesthetic step down from its predecessors in The Terminator series. Terminators 1 and 2 were landmarks of the sci-fi/action genre. They were relentless and exhilirating. James Cameron, their perfectionist creator, gave them a sleak, gleaming style and an atmosphere of constantly escalating danger. Cameron was not involved in T3 and his absence is felt.
Although director Jonathan Mostow manages to keep T3′s action brisk, the razor-sharp pacing and the gun-metal blue sheen of the first films are missing. In their place, Mostow has put jocular self-parody. Schwartzenneger’s Terminator had genuine menace in the first installments. In this one, he’s almost debonair, discharging bad guys and cute quips with the sly self-awareness of a cybernetic Cary Grant. Perhaps it’s the movie culture that has changed and not the performance; by comparison with the incohoate groans of The Hulk, the Terminator’s monotone "I’ll be back" plays like Noel Coward.
You can find this review, along with other reviews of past and current film, theater, and opera, on our website, at wfiu.indiana.edu. In the meantime, this is Jonathan Haynes, reviewing movies for WFIU.