After “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” it’s truly a difficult task to follow up with yet another sequel. Some would say the story was complete with the 2nd entry (even James Cameron saw it that way). Still I had plenty of hope for this third entry and it does even boast some good ideas and a great ending. Still “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” may have its moments but it’s proves not to be up to the task of following up its previous entries. The film reads more like “how to make a Terminator film” than something organic. The plot is rushed and the action is clunky and a surprisingly dull performance from star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jonathan Mostow’s venture into the Terminator world proves to be a mostly forgettable one while being just mildly entertaining.
“Terminator 3” picks up the story long after the events of “Terminator 2”. John Connor is now a young man and a drifter on the run from the Government. Connor always afraid of the return of the Terminators, even though him and his mother thought they stop Judgment Day, Conner lives uneasy. His fears have been well founded as another Terminator is sent from the future, the more superior T-X, sent to kill John Conner, his future military Lt’s, and his future wife Kate Brewster. In a last ditch attempt to save them the Resistance once again reprograms a T-850 and sends him back to the past. Conner and Brewster believes if they stopped Judgment Day once they can again, but this time the Terminator tells them they can’t stop Judgment Day. But, it won’t stop Connor and Brewster from trying.
When you go into watch “Terminator 2” you might worry if the entire film would be a retread of the first one with another Terminator being sent back in time to kill a member of the Connor family. Luckily “Terminator 2” grew the story bigger and added new layers to it making the entire experience different (and frankly) even better than the first film. Here in “Terminator 3” those worries you might had for the 2nd film are more well founded here . “Rise of the Machines” doesn’t offer many new ideas or concepts into the cannon of the series. The story is paper thin this time around. You could argue there isn’t a ton of story in the first film so criticizing this film for its lack of story is unfair. The problem is this film feels like it’s trying to go for a “T2” vibe with a big story and character development but it doesn’t have the story to support that type of narrative. Meanwhile it’s also not exciting nor does it have the frantic feeling of the original film. It’s in a strange middle ground. The 108 minutes is not nearly long enough to tell the story it’s trying to tell and only offers up vague explanations to new story threads. The good ideas (like the rise of the machines setting up the future war) aren’t fully explored and feel a little wasted.
Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the heroic Terminator. You read now about how he wasn’t going to do the project for the longest time if James Cameron wasn’t involved. That lack of initial interest is felt throughout this film. Those hints of humanity and nuance that Arnold brought in “T2” are sorely lacking here. In this he just looks bored throughout the film. Almost like sleepwalking throughout it just doing the bare minimal required of him.
Playing the new Terminator, the T-X, is actress Kristanna Loken. The first female Terminator in the series, she is suppose to be even greater than the T-1000. Yet she so doesn’t feel menacing at all throughout this film. The T-X doesn’t have the luxury of the bad ass appearance of the liquid metal in this and Loken isn’t all that commanding of a presence. She just tries to make a “mean face” (that looks more like a fish face than anything to fear) and runs in an over exaggerated manner. Not the best villain this series has concocted.
One thing that is clear director Jonathan Mostow is no James Cameron. That’s of course one of the most unfair things to expect going into this film. Just like Colin Trevorrow is no Steven Spielberg when going into “Jurassic World” (those things are a given right off the bat). Yet when you watch “Jurassic World” you get the sense the director loves the series and learned a lot of what made the original so great and tried hard to carry over some of those values while also adding his own flavor. Here I have no idea what Mostow is doing. His action sequences are functional and are fine enough that try to go too big with heavy effects. His scenes lack any sort of suspense or true thrills I sat back and wonder did Mostow learn anything from the previous films? The suspense? The adrenaline? Anything? Like Arnold, he seems to be on Auto-Pilot doing only the bare minimum that was required of him.
Nick Stahl is a good casting choice for John Connor and looked like he was one of the few that really gave a damn about this film. Not that he is Oscar worthy or anything but Stahl really seems like the perfect extension of what Edward Furlong did with the character at a young age. If the script was stronger it would have been possible for Claire Danes to pull a Linda Hamilton with this role and develop into a strong female bad ass by the end. The script starts to do it but sort of just rushes it and doesn’t give her enough to do. Which is a shame considering Danes is a good actress and could have done so much more.
In the end I don’t hate this movie at all. It’s fine and watchable, I don’t mind turning on the movie after the first two. But fine and okay shouldn’t be the words you use to describe a “Terminator” movie especially considering how good the first two films are. It’s not like this film went out swinging for the fences and just missed the ball; this felt like it was playing safe, looking for a soft single.