Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003)
Main cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Nick Stahl (John Connor), Claire Danes (Kate Brewster), Kristanna Loken (T-X), and David Andrews (Robert Brewster)
Director: Jonathan Mostow

If you are watching Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines expecting a cinematic event that will outblow the sensory pleasures offered by Terminator 2: Judgment Day, you will be disappointed. Then again, nothing will beat the awe-inspiring spectacle of Sarah Connor's transformation from damsel-in-distress in the first movie to a kickass babe in the second. T-X here is a disappointment compared to T-1000. Scale down one's expectations, and this simple movie will be a pleasant prequel to what promises to be an apocalyptic saga in the making.

It is now ten years after Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 shows his thumbs up one last time as he melts in a couldron of lava. By saving then thirteen-year old John Connor, the heroes have all averted disaster, ie Judgment Day, the day when the Skynet program takes over the world and has robots killing people on sight everywhere. Right? Well, John Connor has his doubts. His mother has died from leukemia and now he's drifting from town to town, scared that one day he will be called to fulfil his destiny as the savior of mankind. Then the inevitable happens. T-X comes from the future with a new mission: kill John Connor and all his future lieutenants. T-800 is sent to protect John Connor and his old school friend, Kate Brewster. Kate, in the future, will be John's wife and his second-in-command. Killing both John and Kate will be the ultimate strike against the future of humanity.

This movie has a similar style, plotwise, to previous Terminator movies. It's basically an overlong chase movie between T-800 and T-X. Still, apart from a really tedious chase involving a crane transporter and too many conveniently placed empty cars getting wrecked up, the whole movie works. This is mainly due to nostalgia - hey, it's T-800, looking older, looking more beaten-up, but still our T-800. Schwarzenegger is given minimum one-liners - thank you - but these lines mostly work, my favorite being, "My database does not encompass the dynamics of human pair-bonding." T-800 may have bigger boobs than Pamela Anderson, but he's still the robot with the closest to a heart, awww.

T-X is a disappointment. Kristanna Loken looks like a Barbie doll and comes off just as threatening. If we want strong and dangerous woman, we should have just used someone like Peta Wilson or Lucy Lawless, not this walking Barbie doll with an egg-beater (or so that gun-thing from her hand looks like to me) protruding from her right hand. After T-1000's fluid shapeshifting antics, T-X's egg-beating and flame-throwing antics are as scary and threatening as a hamster on a wheel.

Claire Danes isn't bad, but she's more like a bridge character between the first and second movie Sarah Connor. She still doesn't ask for her own weapon - and John has plenty on him - all the way to the end of the movie. If Kate is going to step into Sarah's footsteps, she will have to do a long of toughening up, mentally if not physically. Nick Stahl, however, is a pleasure to watch. Okay, I'm always fond of this young man's subtle acting style in his indie movies, his disastrous foray into a Larry Clark cesspit aside, and I love how he imbues his John Connor with a hangdog vulnerability that shines through even as he fights to be strong and tough. I'm slightly creeped out by how he looks a little like Schwarzenegger's mini-me (it's the jaw structure, I tell you), but his John Connor has the nice amount of humanity to balance out the pyrokinetics in this movie.

The twist at the end of the movie is actually very nicely done. I didn't see it coming - how many movies from Hollywood will actually pretend to badly break several laws of physics and computers only to finally have the characters succumb to the inevitable? Nobody can save the world in thirty minutes.

While the subdued delivery of action scenes may disappoint fans expecting this movie to break the barriers of CGI the way Terminator 2: Judgment Day revolutionized action movies of its time, I find this movie very watchable because Stahl and Danes display enough chemistry to make me care for them. The idea of these two as allies working together is appealing - it's a classic case of falling in love and saving the world, no-nonsense good science-fiction adventure style. Schwarzenegger's appearence gives pleasurable nostalgia as well as a chance to rediscover T-800, the obsolete and unintentionally witty cyborg who nonetheless gets the job done at the end of the day. Although I wouldn't mind Schwarzenegger not showing up in any upcoming sequels. T-800 really looks haggard. I expect to hear bones creak each time poor T-800 gets slammed across the room by Barbie Terminator here.

Terminator 3 may not rock the world, but it offers pleasant entertainment and a reason to keep visiting this world of time-traveling cyborgs and unexpected heroes. I think I'll be back.

Rating: 85

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