Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews

MPAA Rating:  (for strong sci-fi violence and action, and for language and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 7/2/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Theme and variation—that's the key to the success of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The theme: the Terminator, a cybernetic organism (robot), is sent back in time to prevent the human race from winning the future war between man and machine by attempting to prevent the rise of the man who will be responsible for humanity's victory. The human army sent back their own agent in the original, a man who would father this great leader (which brings up a huge gap in logic of time travel, but never mind). The film was about the pursuit, heightened by a great sense of suspense. In the sequel, the idea was essentially the same, but the alterations made all the difference. This time around, a more advanced model of Terminator was sent back to kill the leader himself, and the villain from the original returned as the hero. The film still serves as a signpost of the computer-generated effects era and shifted the focus from suspense to action. Both films were smart entertainments, and the sequel managed to create such an atmosphere of dread with its apocalyptic scenario that it was equally thrilling and frightening. Now comes the third film, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a well-made but empty spectacle that is missing dread, thrills, and, most importantly, variation.

It's ten years after the events of the last film, with Judgment Day failing to arrive and the war between man and machine never coming about. John Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a vagabond, constantly moving around and always avoiding attention. He knows what he will do, but he doesn't want to get there. A motorcycle crash leaves him injured, so he breaks into a veterinarian's office for drugs and a means to mend his wounds. Meanwhile, the T-X (Kristanna Loken, whose tone of voice betrays the character), a new form of Terminator that is designed to terminate Terminators, arrives from the future with a mission to kill Connor's future lieutenants. Soon after, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns to protect John and Kate Brewster (a characterless Claire Danes), the veterinary clinic employee who has discovered John and locked him in a cage. The T-X realizes John's presence when it comes to kill Kate and immediately shifts programs to his elimination. The Terminator arrives just in time, but the fight is highly uneven. "I'm an obsolete design," it tells John.

It seems that the actions taken by the Terminator, John, and his mother ten years ago only postponed Judgment Day ("It is inevitable"). So the plot this time around is quintessentially the same as it was in the previous film. Two Terminators appear, both search for John, one spends the entire movie trying to protect him from the other, the future cause of Judgment Day is understood, and an attempt to stop it is made. The movie sticks so closely to the formula that we begin to morbidly hope that they fail just so something different happens. The script goes through the motions to get the series on a different track, but why not start on a different track to begin with and see where that leads? The final series of events sets up something new and changes the course any future sequels would take. It also contains a fairly disturbing shot that would be impossible to describe without ruining the ending, but you'll most definitely know when you see it. Until we get to this point, though, the movie is rushed. Nothing beyond the chase is developed enough to get us involved in anything beyond the chase.

In this way, the movie is different in style but still not concept. The action is pumped up to a level that, once the T-X finds John, we wonder if it will ever stop. And for a while, there is nothing going on except for a series of technically proficient chase scenes. The central one is, surprisingly, the first, as the T-X uses service vehicles controlled by remote as weapons and obstacles. Lots of cars explode and lots of havoc is wreaked, but director Jonathan Mostow and editor Neil Travis compose this sequence and the rest of the action scenes that follow fairly predictably. Each shot has about a three-second lifespan before cutting to next for another three seconds before cutting to the next and so on. The arrangement is apparent but perhaps only because of a lack of involvement. Only until the story starts to flesh out much later are we given a reason to care about it, and the relationships of the central trio are merely outlines. Terminator 2 gave us a relationship between the Terminator and John that had some substance, but here, it's forgone to continue the action.

What's interesting to note about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is that its special effects haven't improved much since Terminator 2. Much of what was revolutionary then is still used just as effectively here, and the difference is quantity not quality. The chase scenes and even the seemingly simple fight scenes are realized with effects. It's kind of an interesting parallel to the central theme of the series. The computers are taking over, and while we are able to better demonstrate the potential for human imagination on the screen, we may be sacrificing our creativity in the process.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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