By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, and Earl Boen
Call me crazy, but I could have sworn that the Terminator 2 nighttime shot of a highway, with a Linda Hamilton voiceover declaring that the future is now full of hope, was full on proof that Judgment Day was stopped. Well, I am not going to sit here and declare it should have been. Or am I? In the twelve years leading up to the making of Terminator 3, studios have been midair arm-wrestling this franchise. After the flop known as Cutthroat Island, original Terminator studio Carolco went bankrupt and that studio’s backers Andrew Vajna & Mario Kassar reopened it under the banner C2. Many scripts, director considerations, and $170 million later, the studio was finally ready to make Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines with Jonathan Mostow (U-571) directing. The result is an off-putting and uneven film that has none of the charm or power of the franchise’s previous entries. Not that it didn’t try.
Right off the bat, it is hard to not notice how weak women in this franchise look when they’re not being directed by Cameron. Granted, Danes has never been tough (though she’s making a case with her current show Homeland), but casting model Loken in the role of the Terminatrix’s outward self was an interesting, if off-putting decision. They try to make her menacing, even having her lick blood off her fingers after a kill. But the sly menace that Robert Patrick had as the T-1000 in the last entry is unequivocally absent.
The rest of the cast is off and on. A hearty thumbs up must be given to Ah-nold, who was 54 years old at the time Terminator 3 was made, and got himself in just as good of shape as when he made T2. The fact he has to spend portions of this role wearing stripper glasses and saying ‘talk to the hand’ is no fault of his own. While I had my issues with Edward Furlong’s portrayal of John Connor, I bought him in the role of the future Resistance leader much more than Stahl. Even though he’s supposed to be an older version of Connor, the character comes off as even more whiny than before. Given that Linda Hamilton’s (smart) passing of the script led to a rewritten portion of her dying from leukemia, the action scene that takes place around her coffin borders on coming off as tasteless. Stahl really worked the nerves during this scene, and it’s a wonder they didn’t recast him like they did the part of Kate Brewster.
Danes (who admittedly replaced Sophia Bush at the very last-minute) was a see-saw in the role of Kate Brewster. She falters when it comes time to be fibrous, yet excels in getting emotion out of me when she has to cry. The casting is a prime example of a professional actress being placed in an action film and not knowing where her character’s place is. Now that I think about it, that last sentence pretty much describes my overall view of Terminator 3.
Mostow (who also made the more than watchable movie Breakdown) does both good and bad things with his direction. A bad decision made during this production that makes the other two look like the far more superior films was the decision to have the majority of Terminator 3’s action take place during the day time. Cameron built the drama in his night-time chases, and now we see why it worked so well, as Terminator 3’s action has almost none of the tension. However, there are great moments and call backs that I did enjoy. I liked the two recalls to the first Terminator. One being the Terminatrix killing Kate’s fiancé while hunting for her, and the other being the Terminatrix’s torso not giving up on her mission even though her legs were gone. There is also a very loud and booming action scene involving a crane that Schwarzenegger gave up $1.4 million of his salary to complete. The scene borders on overkill, but the way it echoes T2’s canal/motorcycle chase and puts destruction to exciting use was admittedly a sight to behold.
The last leg of Terminator 3 really drags, however. While the last two films had final half hours that could be construed as visual roller coasters, this one drags itself to the finish line. And what good work that was put into the film is not well paid off. It has a hard time doing the balance act Cameron did, and which is making a precautionary futuristic science fiction nightmare look like a believable face on a believable body. While there are definitely watchable elements of Terminator 3, it mostly comes off as the 2003 promotional ad for Ah-nold’s governorship that it really is.