Once again, the Terminator series proves its superior worth over competing
action concepts with its emphasis on the human element and a higher level of
story consistency. There's also something inherently appealing about the
clashing interests of an aging protective robot from the future and the
latest, indestructible model out to terminate the good guys -- us!
Immediately, one more closely identifies with this setup than with the
mysterious, barely explainable binary world of "The Matrix" or with the
alienated and endangered Mutants in "Xmen" or the wistful scientist with a genetic problem in
The world that T3 (a resurrection of a T-800 model) visits with his time
machine is roughly today's. John Connor (Nick Stahl) is on the run in order
to be untrackable after learning, (in 1991's "T2: Judgment Day") that, in the
future, after a cataclysmic world-destroying Judgement Day, he is destined to
become the chosen leader of the human survivors. He (and we) also learned
that the futuristic machines have been sent out by the rulers of the planet
in 2029 to reshape their future by changing the past. That means terminating
John and all who would follow him.
Failing in their prior attempt, a new assassin arrives to complete the job,
with a list of unsuspecting people to wipe out. This is the virtually
indestructible T-X machine which has chosen to emulate one of the dummies in
the display window of the swank Rodeo Road store in which it arrives in the
space-time machine. It therefore looks a whole lot like a classy blond
(Kristanna Loken), hot enough to freeze a room and disarm the suspicious.
Good ploy for the most advanced robot yet. The first demonstration of how
she operates comes in the viciously heartless way she acquires her
wardrobe, wheels, and police-issue weapon.
As she (just too gorgeous to think of as an "it") proceeds to run her program
with a series of mob style executions, her nemesis, older model robot T3
(Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives on a remote hill, rusty and tarnished, naked
to the skin, buff to the point of competition-winning muscle (with those
In a visit to a male dance club, he displays the outright self assertion of a
programmed machine, not possessed of the subtle ways and mores of polite
human society. Here he acquires his wardrobe, and sets out in the pursuit of
John Connor and his future mate Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) in order to
carry out his mission of protection.
This soon leads to a hook up between Connor, Brewster and T3. The
coincidental factors in the meet are soon put to rest with the battering T3
takes in his clash with T-X as he attempts to protect his charges against her
persistent fury. Before long, we are treated to a stunt chase whose
originality gives the freeway scene in "The Matrix Reloaded" a run for its money. Controlling
what is touted as the largest truck-borne crane in America (per Arnold
himself on Jay Leno) T-X attempts to demolish T3, wiping out everything in
her path: cars, lampposts, street lights, and, in a tour de force, the
crane arm decimation of a hi-tech building. A weighty pat on
the back for this bit of stunt-action demolition-derby one-upmanship.
If all this makes an impression, the underlying factor is the way the machine
relates to the humans. First, it's a protector. Who can't relate to that?
We love this guy. Then, there's his self-effacing quality. One of the film's
most distinguishing moments comes during a getaway run in Brewster's truck.
T3 at the wheel, he evokes what human empathy he can muster in explaining to
Connor and Brewster the dangers that lie ahead. "I'm an obsolete design," he
states dispassionately, informs them of T-X's advanced capabilities and why,
in a matchup, he's likely to be destroyed. "It's more intelligent," he
The true intelligence, as well as the canny creative wisdom, is the filmmakers'
at the heart of the T series. It's no accident that the protector cyborg,
despite prodigious capabilities, is not up to spec. T2 came up against a
different set of superiorities in the relentless shape-shifting T-1000
(Robert Patrick) coming after Connor in the previous installment (remember
those scattered liquefied drops of metal reforming themselves?).
The people behind this franchise have a better understanding of what it takes
to make us identify with the vulnerability of man and machine -- even after a
silence of 10 years.
One essential is Schwarzenegger himself. Politics aside, there's a
consistency to his output, as though he exerts a storytelling influence on
whomever it is he's working with (admittedly with a few recent
disappointments, like "End of Days" and "The Sixth Day"). To this date, one
of my favorite movies, in the futuristic action vein, is "Total Recall."
Ever the vulnerable man, never the superman, Mr. S seems to be as
director-proof as his characters prove ultimately to be villain-proof. And,
here, as T3, he looks as good as ever, all 55 years of him. It would be an
inestimable loss to action cinema if he chooses to give it all up for a
career in California politics, as he threatens to do.
"Terminator 3" is paced well, blending the elements without a sense of
narrative slowdown and with an appropriate balance of the themes. The battle
between the T machines becoming a war between sexes is not lost as a fine
stylistic choice, making visual fun out of big Arnold seemingly taking such
disastrous wallops from so fine a femme as T-X appears to be. The lady is
cold, alluring, and ruinous, with never a hair out of place or makeup
smudged. Much praise to this New York model turned actress for her radiant
mechanistic portrayal. As for acting prowess, she keeps us ever in mind of
her character's underlying chip-driven machinery.
Nick Stahl does a pro job of taking over the part from Edward Furlong with
necessary strengths and weaknesses to make him identifiable and sympathetic
as the one who preserves our future. Claire Danes is a lovely choice for his
future mate, and nicely fills the emotional element lost by the absence
of Connor's mother.
Under Jonathan Mostow's direction, Don Burgess' cinematography is
always up to the mark; Neil Travis and Nicolas De Toth's editing equally
seamless. Mostow picks up the reins from concept creator James Cameron and
shows Hollywood how to do a sequel that preserves the qualities of its
The boldly supportive score is by Italian born Marco Beltrami ("Blade 2"),
using 96 musicians and a 30-voice choir. (Track listing below).
I surely can't anticipate how all these futuristic action spectaculars are
going to stack up at the boxoffice, but in terms of what's deserving of
appreciation, I give T3 my maximum nod, with Spiderman in close pursuit.
For me, it's the human element winning out over pure action dynamics.
~~ Jules Brenner