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Movie Review | Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

He's back (Arnold Schwarzenegger) - again - in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Movie summary: A machine from a post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to protect a man and a woman from an advanced robotic assassin to ensure they both survive a nuclear attack. (IMDb)

Before watching Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines for this review, my memory of the movie had it as an enjoyable, if shallow action movie that I still at least had fun watching. Now? Those 'enjoyable', 'fun' moments just don't work at all, especially the latter. I had forgotten how much humour was crammed into this movie and that's probably the key reason this movie doesn't really work for me anymore.

The first two Terminator movies had very brief moments of levity, but those were mostly due to disbelief at the crazy situations the characters found themselves in, gallows humour at how bad everything was, or awkwardness between two characters learning to get on with each other. In this movie, the jokes are there to be jokes and don't feel appropriate for the characters or the premise of the movie.

After all, should a movie about trying to stop an attempted genocide of the human race through nuclear holocaust really be aiming so low? There are some moments that do amuse, but even they feel like lucky hits thanks to cramming in attempts at comedy in almost every scene, rather than anything James Cameron put in his movies.

It's especially strange considering how this movie ends, with easily the bleakest finale of all the Terminator movies so far. That final sequence is genuinely brilliant, with a fantastic piece of music over the top that really emphasises the tragedy of it all, and incredibly brave to end what was a summer blockbuster that way. Unfortunately, it's the kind of tone missing from the rest of Rise of the Machines.

Much like the humour, the gravity of the impending nuclear apocalypse only comes through on rare occasions, most of which come in the final act as everything begins to fall apart. I will admit that Terminator 3's final sequences were pretty good all told, because you can't really inject too much humour when people start being slaughtered en masse.

The reason the finale still doesn't quite work is that you still don't really care about the characters at that point - mainly because they seem to have been transplanted from a generic action-adventure blockbuster into the incredibly violent and murderous Terminator world. And it's not just the humour that makes them not work, it's that they don't really get to do that much.

John Connor (Nick Stahl) and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) feel more like two people being caught up in a tidal wave and are being swept along by events - in particular, two Terminators duking it out over their lives - and have very little influence on events. I think that's intentional to some extent, but the script does go a little too far in removing agency from the pair and makes them come across as weak, rather than strong characters who are simply overwhelmed by disaster.

The T-X (Kristanna Loken) seems almost unstoppable in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Even Arnie can't escape the mediocrity, with his Terminator this time out being more human from the start so even an ostensibly emotionless machine can get in on the comedy. At least he's still reliable - and convincing - on the action front, especially in his physical encounters with the T-X (Kristanna Loken), despite being even more outmatched than his previous character was against the T1000 in Judgment Day.

As for Loken, her T-X is probably the most appropriate for the series, but it's difficult to gauge her performance considering that she's playing an emotionless, humourless killing machine. I will say that she certainly comes across as a legitimate threat to the central trio, so it's a job well done on that front, but I don't think it's a role that can allow you to judge her acting skills.

One thing I will actually say for the T-X is that the humour really doesn't work - such as when she enlarges her breasts to distract a cop - to such an extent that it almost feels like this new Terminator is mocking how male writers treat women in action movies. I don't think that's intentional, but I think Loken remaining so cold and detached as would be appropriate for her character completely nullifies the multiple attempts to sexualise the T-X, even if her looks remain immaculate until the very end.

And I do want to again praise that ending, which actually does feel like the beginning of the end for the human race. There are some who complain it nullifies the previous movies, but I'd say it's worth noting that Skynet never sent a Terminator back in time to ensure Judgment Day would happen, but to kill the man who would defeat it years later. It's just a shame the first 80 minutes of Rise of Machines isn't in the same tone as the last 25 - it would've been a much better movie.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a dumb, but sometimes fun action movie while also being a truly terrible Terminator movie. There's too much humour and too little of it works or feels genuine to even enjoy, and the characters are paper thin, being shuffled from scene to scene so we can get to the next action set-piece. It does have its moments though, and the ending is killer.


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