Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines



USA 2003 : Jonathan MOSTOW : 110 mins

T3 is everything The Matrix Reloaded so disappointingly wasn’t: a slam-bang thrill-ride sequel with just the right combination of action, humour and intelligence. Both films feature much talk of free will and destiny, both feature a big set-piece involving a demolition-derby of a car-chase. The difference here is that director Mostow (Breakdown) and his scriptwriters handle everything with much more wit, style and economy than the lumberingly pretentious Wachowskis. You won’t mind, or perhaps even notice, how much the story – future war-vs-machines hero John Connor (Nick Stahl) is pursued by one unstoppable, indestructible terminator (Kristanna Loken) and protected by another (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – shamelessly rehashes the last Terminator picture.

There biggest difference this time is the addition of two prominent female characters to counteract the absence of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, the previous instalments’ heroine. Hamilton’s defection from the project – plus that of T1 and T2 director James Cameron – raised (misplaced) fears that T3 was going to be a Godfather III-style ‘sequel too far’. But Loken (whose combination of supermodel looks and homicidal viciousness may remind many viewers of Natasha Henstridge’s Species character) and, especially, Claire Danes, prove crucial to T3‘s success.

Danes – who apparently stepped in as an eleventh-hour replacement when ‘Sophia Bush’ dropped out – was in dire need of a hit after a conspicuous string of box-office duds, and she seizes the opportunity to re-energise her fading career. In fact, as Catherine Brewster – “destined” to become John Connor’s wife and play a crucial role in the “inevitable” post-armageddon war – she’s pretty much the lead, and her convincing progression from bewilderment to distress to terror to gritty determination recalls Jamie Lee Curtis in her scream-queen prime.

While Stahl, Loken and Schwarzenegger all acquit themselves well, it’s Danes who makes the biggest impact, delivering the kind of ‘proper’ performance rarely found in the action genre. The contributions of scriptwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato also exceed genre expectations – perhaps not so surprising, since their last credit was David Fincher’s brilliant The Game. T3 isn’t in that league, but, given the fact that the writers were handed the thankless task of reviving such a long-dormant ‘franchise’, it’s hard to imagine more satisfying and enjoyable results.

You know you’re in very safe hands from Arnie’s entrance when, entering a roadhouse and ordering a male ‘exotic dancer’ dressed in Terminator-style biker-gear to take off his clothes, the stripper replies “Patience, honey!” From this point, the script manages to be consistently amusing without ever tipping into self-parody – all the while somehow managing to retaining the doomily apocalyptic air that gives this franchise its dramatic ballast.

In advance, most viewers would have been forgiven for fearing the worst from T3 – but by the credits, they’ll probably find themselves impatiently eager for the next episode. How ironic that, while the likes of the Wachowskis and George Lucas plan their portentous trilogies out so intricately in advance, the apocalyptic Terminator ‘mythos’ has proved no less engaging and persuasive for being cobbled together on such an opportunistic, ad-hoc basis.

29th July, 2003
(seen same day : UCI, Hull)

by Neil Young