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You will not find the name “James Cameron” anywhere on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Will fans of Cameron’s Terminator opus appreciate this new installment? Only time will tell, but what director Jonathan Mostow has given us is a barely above-average action flick with an ending that not only justifies the existence of T3, but the whole Terminator story arc as well.

Terminatrix

The machines rise
The machines rise

John Connor (Nick Stahl), the target in Terminator 2 and the future leader of the human uprising that will oppose the machines intent on eradicating humanity, is now a lonely drifter who has no attachments. Even though measures were taken to prevent the nuclear holocaust that would start the war between man and machine, Connor has persistent premonitions that it still might happen.

A new terminator called the TX (Kristanna Loken) or Terminatrix, as she is later dubbed, arrives from the future to hunt down Connor’s lieutenants and eventually Connor himself. The TX has the veneer of a supermodel, can control multiple vehicles from a remote location, and can adjust her bust size at will. But she can also fire power bursts and shoot flames from her arm, making her a more highly advanced model than her predecessor, the T-800 model played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One of the TX’s targets, a veterinary assistant named Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) will become not only an important aide to Connor’s struggle but his wife as well. Brewster doesn’t know that when Connor breaks into the animal hospital to get painkillers to treat a wound from a motorcycle accident. They knew each other in high school, and all Kate knows of Connor is that he has a mysterious past.

Shortly after their meeting, Schwarzenegger’s terminator arrives in a hilarious introduction that involves a male strip club. Both terminators track Connor and Kate to the hospital, and they immediately lock metallic arms and start beating the tin out of each other. This is followed by a looong escape scene that involves a car chase that seems to destroy more cars than Toyota can manufacture in a year. Kate is told of her future and must decide if it might be true, even though she has a very comfortable life with a fiancee and a loving but busy father, Robert Brewster (David Andrews), a military officer who happens to be involved with the notorious Skynet software.

Connor himself suddenly has to deal with the fate he has been running from since his last meeting with a terminator.

I Won’t Be Back

The most obvious difference about T3 is that it does not have Cameron’s technically superior filmmaking skills, and because of this the action sequences appear sloppy at times. Some of them, such as the aforementioned car chase appear tacked-on or extended just to give audiences cheap thrills. The same can be said for the special effects; the future scenes do not capture the dread and enormity from the other movies.

Linda Hamilton, a strong presence in both predecessors, is also a no-show. Her character Sarah died of leukemia but stayed alive long enough to make sure that the original Judgment Day did not happen. The strong female role is handed over to Danes, and she pulls it off quite well. She easily out-acts everyone else in the picture. Not too hard to do since she is competing with two cyborgs and an uncertain Stahl.

Schwarzenegger will never be known for his thespian skills, and he basically reprises his role from T2 as Connor’s protector with the same wooden tenacity as before, but with a twist: Kate is the one who sent him back in time, so his commands will not work as they did in the previous film. The camaraderie felt in the previous film is gone. Arnold does not care about why humans cry or why it is not right to kill people. He has been programed in human psychology, so he only has to utter a snappy comeback to halt any annoying character conflict. And his now trademark one-liners are just variations of previous ones, such as “She’ll be back” or the inevitable “I’m Back.”

Fighting the Future

The movie’s ultimate redemption comes in its denouement which avoids the cop-out you think this story will lead up to. What has made the Terminator movies so appealing is the dread of what’s to come and the sense of urgency it creates, and T3 maintains that tradition, even with its new characters.

The idea of not being able to control one’s fate is a theme that often arises and gives you something to think about once the bullets have stopped flying.

It also makes the point that things happen for a reason, and if predetermined events do not happen at a certain time they will at another. “Judgment Day wasn’t stopped, it was postponed,” Arnold’s robot explains. That is why terminators keep coming back to finish the mission. That is why John is still having apocalyptic visions. That is why the Skynet software will not die. T3 is good enough to allow moviegoers to accept it as part of the official Terminator canon, and those who do not can simply pretend it does not exist.