Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Language and brief Nudity
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes & Kristanna Loken
TERMINATOR is cheesy 80’s fun and JUDGEMENT DAY is one of the best action films ever made. TERMINATOR 3 was the first entry in the series that didn’t involve James Cameron at all and man, does it show. The mere existence of this script feels like a slap in the face to anyone who enjoyed either of the previous TERMINATOR films. This isn’t meant to sound like I’m hating on this film strictly for the sake of hating it, because there are a number of reasons why RISE OF THE MACHINES comes off as a massive let-down. If you want to talk about lame third installments cashing in on well-known franchises, this film ranks lower than JURASSIC PARK III and BEYOND THUNDERDOME combined. TERMINATOR 3 is a bland, hollow third installment that feels more like a cheap direct-to-DVD sequel rather than something that received a nationwide theatrical release in 2003.
Years have passed since the events of TERMINATOR 2 and John Connor has begun living off the grid as a drifter. However, the apocalyptic future somehow still lies ahead and the evil artificial intelligence, Skynet, sends another killer android back in time (they literally come off of an assembly line). This new robotic female assassin, called the T-X, has been assigned to kill as many future Resistance fighters as possible. It just so happens that John Connor accidentally stumbles across the T-X’s path. He’s quickly on the run with another future commander (played by Claire Danes) and their odds of survival are wavering. Luckily, the rebels seem to be way ahead of the mark yet again and send yet another robo-Arnie into the past to save the day…if he can.
I don’t think that many TERMINATOR fans would deny that JUDGEMENT DAY is the best entry in the whole series. You spend over two hours following Sarah and John’s quest to stop the eventual apocalypse and by the mere existence of this third film, it sort of renders their past efforts utterly pointless. This is especially heightened when the film tries to throw little nods and call-backs to the first two installments (only one fleeting cameo actually worked for me). A wooden Nick Stahl fails to fill the shoes of Edward Furlong, which sounds like the weirdest criticism to ever be placed in a film review. Claire Danes plays the perpetual damsel-in-distress and obvious love-interest for Stahl’s Connor. Meanwhile, Arnold gives his most robotic performance yet as the Terminator. His stiffness is the butt of many lame comic relief moments, including arriving at a women’s strip club in search of clothes.
While the performances of Stahl, Danes and Arnie are ripe for being criticized, the worst slap in the face comes in the T-X herself. The only reason that fans might be excited about this antagonist would be because it happens to be a female robot assassin this time around. Besides saying the prerequisite lines like “I like your car,” “I like your gun,” and “Where’s John Connor?,” T-X’s only special abilities seem to be controlling other machines (because the writers felt like throwing in that useless detail) and making pouty faces whenever she’s thwarted. As if this villainess couldn’t get any more non-threatening or ridiculous, she makes bubble sound effects when getting shot (think a more over-the-top version of the T-1000). This is easily the worst baddie to ever soil the TERMINATOR saga.
The script is flimsy at best and filled to the brim with action scenes that are neither exciting or worthwhile. The first TERMINATOR focused on the intensity of the cat-and-mouse chase, even if it was a bit silly and rough around the edges. The second film had high stakes and good characters, which made every chase and confrontation that much more gripping. TERMINATOR 3 has nothing going for it, but manages to squish in a ton of unnecessary explosions, car chases and needless gunfights. A chase sequences near the opening feels like the equivalent of Michael Bay playing with Hot Wheels cars and a cemetery shootout just doesn’t belong. It certainly doesn’t help that the studio went for CGI in regards to most of the robot effects. The characters flop and fly around so much that I felt like I was watching a Looney Tunes cartoon starring Arnold and the T-X.
Everything wrong with TERMINATOR 3 can be summed up in one scene in the first half. The Terminator removes a faulty battery from his metal skeleton and throws it out of a car window. A minute later, a giant explosion happens (I’m talking mushroom cloud) and that’s about it. There’s no purpose for this scene other than to show off some effects or possibly get a quick chuckle. That’s pretty much why this entire third installment sucks. It’s aimless, poorly written and dumb. I’m not a massive fan of the series by any means, but TERMINATOR fans and moviegoers in general certainly deserved far better than this.