Friday, January 08, 2010

“Your levity is good, it relieves tension and the fear of death.”

Remember that whole rather optimistic theme in the Terminator movies? The one about how “there is no fate but what we make for ourselves” thing? Yeah, that one. Toss it out the window, since Judgment Day is inevitable, according to 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Los Angeles once more, and once more we get two naked Terminators coming through time, only this time, one’s a hot woman. Bad and Good Terminators track down a living human to fight over, and we find out that their primary target isn’t actually John Connor this time, but his future wife and 2nd in command, Kate Brewster. Again we get the game of cat & mouse between heroes & villain, and again we get an attempt to prevent Judgment Day, except the title of the movie should give you a clue as to who wins.

John Connor: Nick Stahl is the grown up future savior of humanity, except he’s also apparently hit the skids, having to rely on breaking into veterinary clinics for painkillers for injuries that aren’t exactly made clear. Perhaps he’s just a junkie. Anyway, he doesn’t really do all that much that’s “leader-ly” in this film and he’s fairly unlikable. Also, Sarah Connor is apparently dead at this point, having died in 1997 of cancer or something.

Kate Brewster: Claire Danes is our slightly more likable female lead. She runs a veterinary clinic and is essentially kidnapped by John & the Terminator and she (and the audience) find out later that Future Kate Brewster is Future John Connor’s wife and second in command and is the one who sent the Terminator back in time to ensure John & Kate’s survival. So, basically, Kate’s character has been shoe-horned into the movie’s continuity to provide a little twist to the whole “John Connor saves Humanity” thing.

Dr. Peter Silberman: Hey, its Earl Boen for a really small character bit in the cemetery. After Kate escapes to the police, Silberman introduces himself as a trauma counselor and that he’s there to help. Then he catches sight of the Terminator and runs like hell away from there. I laughed.

Robert Brewster: David Andrews plays Kate’s dad, a man placed highly in the military (probably Air Force from his uniform). He doesn’t get a whole lot of characterization aside from not really liking the idea of machines deciding national defense matters and then eventually pushing the button that sends SkyNet online.

The T-800 Terminator: Arnold Schwarzenegger once more brings the imposing cybernetic organism to the big screen, and it still works well considering these movies have spanned three decades. This T-800 is a completely new version (so no hasta la vista stuff) and was apparently a model that was reprogrammed by Future Kate after it busted in and killed Future John but good. This model is now considered outdated in the future but apparently features a new hydrogen fuel cell system that for whatever reason, is explosive enough to create a small mushroom cloud. I don’t think that’s how hydrogen fuel cells work. Anyway, Arnold gives it his best, and he still does a great job of things, its just that he can’t really carry the rest of the characters on his mighty robot shoulders. Still the badass of the film.

The T-X Terminatrix: Kristanna Lokken is SkyNet’s new assassin, a slimmer model that blends an endoskeleton with a transforming liquid metal skin and appears in human form as an attractive female. The T-X (because Terminatrix is really cheesy and I refuse to say it again) is an all right villain, having quite a bit of firepower built in and being able to drill into technology so as to reprogram it, but in other ways she just feels like a flat villain with no personality whatsoever, which is a shame since both the T-800 and T-1000 had subtle personality touches that made them different (like the 800’s penchant for sunglasses and the 1000’s vindictive streak). The T-X is, ironically, less interesting because she’s too mechanical in the long run. She starts off with some fairly interesting features, like being able to expand certain…elements of her physique to distract a cop and is also able to do DNA scans by tasting blood, but those get tossed aside later. They even have the T-X try and do the insanely fast cross country sprinting thing from the second movie, but its not nearly as creepy this time.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, Terminator 3 certainly looks good. Arguably the best redeeming features of this film are the action sequences, and they’re pretty solid. The car chase early on with the crane was pretty cool, the shootout in the cemetery where the Terminator fights his way to a hearse carrying John Connor in a bulletproof coffin was nice visually. Unfortunately, they just feel like set piece scenes. The visual atmosphere is mostly uneven and lacking in the menace one would expect from the last few hours before Judgment Day.

The script by John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and Ted Sarafini (and based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd) doesn’t really work. Plot-wise, this movie is supposed to be taking place before SkyNet decides to royally sodomize humanity with nuclear weaponry but you never get any feelings of urgency or dread or hopelessness. Not even at the end when the missiles are actually firing. That just feels like “oh well, at least John & Kate are safe so that they could lead the fight against the machines and then send a guy back to 1984 so that John Connor could get conceived and give his mom the false hope that Judgment Day can be avoided.” There is also a subplot where the T-X is going around killing random people that will eventually become Connor’s lieutenants in the war, but that gets forgotten so quickly that I almost forgot to mention it. The dialogue is serviceable but nothing above average. There are a few nice mythology gags, like when the Terminator puts on a pink pair of sunglasses after getting his leather jacket and then crushes them before getting a pair of black shades, but those are just nods, nothing to really sell a movie on. Also, the T-X is able to hack into a police car and make it drive unmanned (okay…) and then is somehow able to control a bunch of other police cars and ambulances in a similar manner without hacking them individually because…because…because car computer chips and the nanotechnology excuse used DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! But that’s just one scene. The critical atmosphere failure is really the movie’s greatest sin.

The score by Marco Beltrami is nothing special. This time, there are more orchestral touches to the film and themes, which is jarring considering the straight up digital/electronic sounds of the first two.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an entirely gratuitous sequel. It feels somewhat rushed, flat and aside from a few interesting action sequences, brings nothing of any real value to the franchise. Its not a terrible or unwatchable film by any means, but it is absolutely pointless from a storytelling perspective, aside from railroading Judgment Day into an inevitable event so that presumably more and more movies could be made. T3 is just…bland and completely unnecessary compared to the superior James Cameron helmed films. Worth a rental, but not really worth actively seeking this film out.

Of course, this previous year brought forth Terminator: Salvation, which basically moved the entire story to the post-apocalyptic future, but honestly, I’m in no rush to see it.

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