Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (12A)

Blockbuster sequels don’t normally take a dozen years to reach our screens, and Terminator 3 rapidly emerges for what it is: a desperate attempt by star Arnold Schwarzenegger to shore up what’s left of a career that reached its peak with Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991.

While he was content to make rubbish like Kindergarten Cop, Eraser and Batman and Robin Schwarzenegger was content to let the fans clamour for the return of his leather-clad killing machine. Only now, aged 56 and with the hits drying up, has he been forced to buff up and blow the dust off his robotic assassin.

It feels like too little, too late. Original visionary creator James Cameron is nowhere to be seen. Neither are co-stars Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong as on-screen mother and son Sarah and John Connor. Instead we have a creaky-looking Schwarzenegger alongside Nick Stahl (replacing Furlong as the older Connor) and Claire Danes as his reluctant companion, while the villain of the piece – another relentless terminator this time played by the series’ first woman, Kristanna Loken – is a statuesque blonde.

The story, directed by Jonathan (U-571) Mostow, is a blatant and unapologetic retread of the second film. From the apocalyptic future where Mankind is waging a losing war against a world dominated by machines, a lone terminator, reprogrammed for good, is sent to protect the twentysomething John Connor.

It’s the same obsolete T-800 model as that sent to safeguard him ten years before, and which wound up melted to nothing in a vat of molten metal. This time, however, the machines have sent their most fearsome opponent: the T-X, or Terminatrix, a vicious robot several times more powerful than the T-800 and with an arsenal of devastating weapons at its disposal.

Before you can say “Hasta la vista, baby” the two automatons are wrecking America and each other. But that doesn’t matter, as the world is slowly counting down to a global catastrophe that will fulfil the first film’s prophecy of Judgement Day.

Like the new Star Wars films, Terminator 3 is forced to tie-up a lot of loose ends, and it does so rather messily. It doesn’t help that only Schwarzenegger returns (along with Earl Boen’s disbelieving shrink from T-2) to carry the plotline from film to film.

It also suffers from an over-reliance on CGI and sundry other special effects, with Schwarzenegger, nudging 60, taking a back seat from some of the frenetic fight sequences. In truth it’s all been seen and done before, and T-3’s biggest battle (which it loses) is in topping the film that spawned it.

There is little chemistry between Stahl and Schwarzenegger, or between Stahl and Danes, while Loken, as the unstoppable T-X (and haven’t we heard that before…?) has little to do except look lithe and menacing while flinging Schwarzenegger through a succession of doors, walls and windows.

Two sequences are impressive. The T-800 and the T-X engage in a stand-off onboard a mammoth, rampaging crane that destroys everything in its path before coming to rest in a welter of screaming metal and sparks. The second features Schwarzenegger ‘liberating’ an array of weapons from a graveyard crypt in a scene reminiscent of the final moments of Henry Jaglom’s indie classic Tracks.

Unadventurous fans of the Terminator series will be thankful that its back with a $170,000,000 makeover but, with the deliberately downbeat ending of T-3, the scene is set for what promises to be a far more mouth-watering prospect: the onset of T-4.

With the world at war with legions of terminators, T-4 heralds a natural end (or beginning) to this cyclical story as the adult John Connor sends a man back through time to save his life as an unborn child.

That, surely, is worth all the money that was spent on the disappointing, weak and underwhelming T-3.

Star rating: ***

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