by Jay Seaver
Terminator 3 isn't the big, knock you flat on your back experience that Terminator 2 was back in 1991, and still can be today. It does a lot of things very well - and is in fact exceptional in a couple of places - but is somewhat generic at times.Where the first Terminator was a taut, gritty action movie wrapped around an understated (and cleverly science-fictional) love story, and T2 had an unmatched go-for-broke intensity to it, T3 isn't anything we haven't seen before. It's biggest problem is probably that Nick Stahl and Clare Danes are able enough actors, but don't generate the emotional intensity that Linda Hamilton, Michael Beihn, Joe Morton, and Edward Furlong did in previous installments. They're nice, I liked the characters, and I understood John Connor's demons, but they only rarely were able to make the jump to where you believe that what happens to all of humanity depends on what they do.
"The biggest problem is that the plot is, basically, the same as that of T2"
Instead, the machines take center stage. Which isn't any bad thing - Schwarzeneggar inhabits the role of the T-101 like he was made for it, and Kristanna Loken is, especially during the first half of the movie, great fun as the T-X. She has the knack of looking pleased with herself without actually smiling, so you could just be assigning human emotions to a machine in your head, if you like your killing machines to be just that. And it's a kick when she analyzes the DNA from a blood sample with her tongue. It's not like watching actual people when they take center stage, but it's not watching a printing press, either.
The movie's biggest potential problem is that the plot is, basically, the same as that of T2 - machine travels back in time to assassinate John Connor, another machine follows, and Connor winds up attempting to get to the man who builds SkyNet. To the filmmakers' credit, they have some fun with tweaking how similar the two movies are at points - T-101 going into a bar to get clothes being a case in point. And Clare Danes as Kate Brewster is a great addition - she fits the middle ground between the "Sarah Connor, damsel in distress" and "Sarah Connor, badass" of the first two movies. She can take care of herself, but isn't in-your-face about it.
The movie's big draw is, of course, the action. It's the good stuff, with a big first-act chase scene that sets a new standard for vehicular mayhem, even compared to The Matrix Reloaded. In fact, director Johnathan Mostow keeps the tension high enough toward the end that I completely let slide something I normally would pick up on and complain about - until a character realizes the same thing, too late. Indeed, the last act of this movie is something pretty special - the comic relief slows down, and the movie actually becomes eerie, in a way, without resorting to the usual atmospheric tricks. It follows mayhem with stillness, and made me wonder about the Terminator movies' future in a way that I really hadn't before.T3 isn't a masterpiece, but it's a pretty darn good movie that manages to add something new to the Terminator series. Supposedly, Warner has purchased the distribution rights to T3 and T4, and I must admit to being curious where the story goes from here.
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originally posted: 06/03/04 04:54:09