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Non-Review Review: Teminator 3 – Rise of the Machines

Network 2 reaired the whole Terminator trilogy to celebrate Salvation‘s release on Friday. My luck being my luck, I caught the tail end of the franchise, the weak link if you will. As I write this, I face the question that I face when I review any given sequel or part of a franchise: should I judge it independently or alongside its predecessors (and – if I’m a latecomer to the party – its successors)? If I adopt the former approach, is Terminator 3 a reasonably solid sci-fi/action movie? If I look at it as the third installment in the franchise, is it fit to be considered alongside two of the greatest action movies ever made?

Spot the one non-classically trained actor in this shot...

Spot the one non-classically trained actor in this shot...

To answer my initial question, I think we all examine movies in the context of other movies, even if we try not to. Its just makes things easier in short hand. Antz is a better bug-based animation move than A Bugs Life. The Dark Knight is a more complex heroic fable than Superman Returns. It gives anyone reading the review a better idea of how we see the genre, but it also allows us to present some sort of relativistic barometre within the genre to anyone who reads this review-y thing. The great Roger Ebert observed to the effect that a dude considering Demolition Man wants to know how it ranks compared to Die Hard or Under Seige as opposed to Citizen Kane. In the case of a sequel, the argument for considering it in context is even greater. It actively makes the assumption that you’ve seen the movies that critics will use to measure it by.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, Terminator 3. It really doesn’t deserve a place alongside its predecessors. If it were a standalone film, it would likely be adequate (but not great or even good), but it just doesn’t seem like it belongs with its two predecessors. I have no doubt this is due to the lack of James Cameron – he’s the sole mechanic who knew how to make th engine work exactly right. Most of the things here feel… not missing, but out-of-place. The series revolutionised special effects, but here they are decidely sloppy (watch Arnold reattach his head). The first two film featured performances that played to Arnold’s strengths, but here there’s too much dramatic lifting given to the superstar. The first two films featured light relief in very human moments (Arnold in the biker bar), here it’s forced and over-the-top (a strip club? a crotch grab during the penultimate fight scene?). The action was frentic and inventive in the original films, but here it’s clunky and – dare I say it? – anticlimactic. And I miss Linda Hamilton, but maybe that was unavoidable.

The casting of the two non-robotic leads doesn’t help. Stahl is so underwhelm that you sense he didn’t just phone it in, he faxed it in. Claire Danes is a little better, but still doesn’t managed to make you buy the development of an admittedly poorly-written character. Even the new Terminator (the T-X) falls somewhat flat. Robert Patrick managed to strike fear into his audience using just his eyes, showing a clam and rational visciousness that was spinechilling. In contrast, Loken looks apathetic, not soul-less.

Still, it isn’t a terrible film per se. All the above are par-for-the-course on your standard summer action blockbuster. I just believed that this series could deliver more than that. The last minute and a half (apparently toned down by request of the executives) finally manage to recreate some of the horror and terror that the first two movies cultivated so well, but it is too little too late. It’s a long slog for some truly beautiful imagery.

My advice? I’ll spare you the obligator “Terminate it” pun and instead suggest you skip it and rewatch one of the first two.

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571) and stars Nick Stahl (Sin City) and Claire Danes (Romeo and Juliet) alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator, True Lies). It was released in the USA on 2nd July 2003, and released in UK and Ireland on 1st August 2003.

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