The cyborg franchise finally returned in 2003 with its third installment Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a full 12 years after the landmark release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The lack of the visionary James Cameron at the helm was an immediate worry and hack Jonathan Mostow in the director’s chair is nothing short of scary.
Not deterred by Cameron leaving the franchise, Arnie got back in the gym and suited up for another adventure as the monotone T-101. Ten minutes in and our hero is stealing clothes from a stripper who tells him to ‘talk to the hand’ for comic relief. Alarm bells are already ringing in my head, just as it was when I saw it at the cinema eight years ago. Things become very bland, very quickly.
Terminator 2 succeeded mainly due to the astounding liquid man who showcased a range of special effects that were awe-inspiring and groundbreaking in equal measure. Sadly the makers of Terminator 3 didn’t put their thinking caps on for quite as long and simply replaced Robert Patrick with a sexy girl who, like Arnie, can’t act. Piled on top is the limp Nick Stahl as John Connor and the uninspiring Claire Danes as Catherine Brewster (Connor’s future squeeze). Second-rate casting such as this coupled with a lack of anything new in terms of effects or narrative makes watching T3 like walking through treacle at times.
Mostow had cut his teeth on action films such as Breakdown and U-571 but god knows why they gave him this assignment. Terminator 3 isn’t a poor film on its own merits, but when compared to the first two legendary films from the franchise it’s very dull indeed. In a sense what we have here is the Godfather Part 3 with cyborgs and action instead of the Mafia.
The narrative echoes the first two, in that it’s a cat-and-mouse chase as the new Terminator attempts to eliminate all of Connor’s future generals, as well as the man himself. Arnie has once again been sent back to protect Connor, something he must be getting tired of by now given that it always ends badly for him. The film is basically a collection of ludicrous action set pieces one after another, building towards the inevitable confrontation between Arnie and the other Terminator. There’s a firefight in a cemetery, a high speed street chase with Arnie doubling as a wrecking ball, and the “Judgment Day” itself.
The one aspect of the film I actually enjoyed the first time around and still do to this day is the highly bleak view that annihilation at the hands of technology is inevitable. The previous attempts to halt Judgment Day had simply resulted in pushing back what must happen. This is a far darker view of the future than in the first two films and is nice work by the writers this time around. Had they only put more meat on the bones of the film itself and had a better cast then we may have been in business.
The second aspect of re-watching T3 that’s actually a happy one is that it could never ever be as bad as the recent fourth installment, Terminator Salvation. The astoundingly anger-inducing shoddiness of Salvation now makes T3 look like a decent enough attempt at continuing the series. So my tip to re-watching Terminator 3 is simple; if you want to get the most out of it, never watch it in sequence with the first two as it will simply look poor in comparison. Slap it on after an idiot attempts to convince you that Salvation is worth another go. The feeling of despair and inner sickness which Salvation will cause can at least be soothed by Terminator 3.