Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recent Watches: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

The “Terminator” saga James Cameron started in his original movie seemed to be concluded in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” Cyberdyne had been destroyed. Skynet’s rise to power was stopped. Judgement Day was averted. The Terminators lost. Humanity won. Yet the huge box office returns for “T2” and the series’ continued place of honor in the annals of pop culture showed demand for a third movie. The ownership rights to the “Terminator” series being such a tangled mess, and James Cameron’s obvious lack of interest, prevented “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” from coming out until 2003. I was part of the problem. When the teaser trailer appeared, I got hyped. It was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the theater. I was pumped for a new “Terminator” adventure. And you know what? I liked it then. I like it now.

Ten years after the events of “Terminator 2,” John Connor is living a life on the run. Judgement Day was seemingly prevented. Yet images of Terminators and the apocalypse still haunt him. These nightmares come true when another pair of Terminators are sent back in time. The familiar T-800 confronts John and tells him Judgement Day is still coming. The female-modeled Terminatrix seemingly speeds doomsday along, all while pursuing John and his suddenly introduced love interest.

“Rise of the Machines” can charitably be called the goofy “Terminator” movie. Part two had humor in it, compared to the grim original. Three seems to actively be going for comedy in parts. Arnold’s Terminator steals his biker gear outfit from a male stripper. The stripper’s camp gay instruction to “talk to the hand!” is taken literally. Afterwards, Arnold puts a pair of pink star glasses on his face. Later, he also instructs someone to “talk to the hand.” The female Terminator inflates her breasts in hopes of distracting a cop. The movie is full of jokey call-backs to the previous films, the most groan-worthy of which has to be “She’ll be back.” Even the movie’s sound design seems exaggerated and comedic, with small objects making loud, silly noises.

The movie’s goofy streak is at odds with its grim content. Though less viscerally violent then previous films, “T3” has easily the highest body count of any of the series. The movie communicates openly with the apocalyptic concepts the series is founded on. Let’s look at John Connor’s character arc, for example. With Judgement Day seemingly stopped, John has never lived up to his great destiny. He wanders from town to town, taking odd jobs, running from the nightmares of his past and the fear they may still come true. Nick Stahl – remember when Nick Stahl was going to become the next big thing? – plays John as a depressed guy, struggling with the wages of his life. By film’s end, he’s accepted his fate, which has renewed his life in an odd way. Keep in mind, for this to happen, the world has to end.

A question that truly must always be asked: What about Arnold Schwarzenegger? “Rise of the Machines” would, infamously, be Arnold’s last starring role before his stint as the governor of California. Reportedly, he was even receiving political offers while on set. Schwarzenegger, however, is always a professional. The script does not give Arnold as much to work with as the previous Terminator movies. The character is made into a comedic straight man, put into silly situation. He’s given lots of action. The character croaks some exposition too, such as the bit about his exploding battery pack which will, naturally, become important later. Arnie’s best moments are when he’s talking about serious issue in that flat Terminator voice, such as his relationship with John and Kate in the future. More dramatic moments, such as the robot violently defying conflicting orders, are less effective.

“Terminator 3” blatantly follows the formula laid down in the second movie. Arnold’s good Terminator is sent back to protect the humans. A second, evil Terminator is sent back to kill them. The movie is unable to top the liquid metal mechanics that made Robert Patrick’s T-1000 so memorable. Instead, this Terminator’s gimmick is that it’s a woman. Why is the T-X model after a woman? Well, the movie doesn’t answer that question. Design wise, the robot is an awkward combination of the previous models. It’s liquid metal flesh over a robotic skeleton, one that looks a bit like an alien. The T-X is a Terminator made to terminate other Terminators. Thus, she also has the ability to control other machines, in an almost psychic fashion. This is a decent way to up the stakes. Kristanna Loken, though gorgeous, mostly copies what Patrick did. The T-X stares ahead intensely, runs a lot, and kills mercilessly. The character is probably the least interesting thing about the movie.

“Rise of the Machines” is uneven as an action movie. When focused on practical effects, it works quite well. A ludicrous car chase escalates nicely. The T-X controls police cars while the two robots end up behind the wheel of a crane truck. Arnold is swung through something like three buildings. One scene, mirroring the Cyberdine shoot-out in part two, has Schwarzenegger’s Terminator turning his guns on some police officers, pointedly not harming any of them. Memorably, he lugs a casket full of guns on his shoulder the whole time, a moment so cool they made an action figure of it. When the T-X makes it to the military base, she unleashes the original T-1 and Hunter-Killer models. The T-1 is an especially great effect and this scene works nicely. However, the Terminator-on-Terminator action is overly reliant on CGI. Schwarzenegger and Loken toss each other around, their bodies sailing through the air effortlessly. A brawl in a bathroom feels completely weightless, as the robots are lifts up and thrown through walls. The CGI effects have aged very poorly over the last decade.

Part three is a controversial film among “Terminator” fans. Some accept it as a moderately entertaining popcorn flick. Others deride its overly goofy tone… And the way it negates the last movie's ending. You know all that stuff about there being “no fate but what we make?” Not so much, it turns out. Judgement Day was only delayed, not stopped. Skynet still becomes self-aware, Earth is still nuked, and the machines still rise. John Connor can not escape his destiny as the leader of the resistance. Retconing away the ending of a beloved film is a ballsy move and one not well received by everyone. Considering “Terminator” is a franchise full of time paradoxes and stable time loops, Judgement Day sort of has to happen for any of this to make sense. Does it make the movie feel like an unnecessary stop-gap before an inevitable conclusion? Yeah. Is there something somewhat satisfying about finally seeing the much-foreshadowed apocalypse happen? Definitely.

Director Jonathan Mostow doesn’t have the visual nuance of James Cameron but he at least knows how to frame an action sequence clearly. Claire Danes works better during the quiet moments and, when lifting guns and blowing away robots, is not as convincing as Linda Hamilton. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” is easily the weakest of the trilogy, paling in comparison to the first two. It’s silly fun with a number of memorable scenes, even if it adds little new or interesting aspects to the series. [7/10]

No comments: