Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Jonathan Mostow. Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (for strong sci-fi violence and action, language and brief nudity). Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3 is a perfect example of a summer movie. Almost non-stop fights, explosions, and car chases, it only occasionally pauses for moments of plot advancement. The reason it succeeds while many - too many - films this summer have not is because it does everything better than its competitors. Even its problems seem small in comparison to the great entertainment this movie offers.

The movie is much more like Terminator 2: Judgement Day than the original, in that plot takes a back seat to extraordinary action. But while the storyline is not intellectually challenging, a certain level of attention is necessary - it is not vacuous either. The screenplay is filled with many familiar characters and situations, and it contains several interesting twists that fans of the series will enjoy. The finale of the movie leads well into the possibility of another sequel, but this depends on the results of Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign.

The action, which takes precedence over the story, is undeniably impressive. The entire movie is filled with spectacular action sequences, but the definate stand-out is the crane chase, which, in a year full of chases, is the best yet. I suppose the best way to describe the sequence (because it is the first phrase that popped into my head, and I always find that it is best to go with gut reactions) would be "all kinds of awesome". Not exactly a professional description, to be sure, but an accurate one nonetheless. Increasing the action's effectiveness, director Jonathan Mostow never relies on flashy special effects to make a point, and when they are used, they are blended seamlessly with the action. Instead of using quick cuts, Mostow keeps his camera still and observes the action, giving it a sense of tension absent in many big-budget movies.

Terminator 3 starts up ten years after the conclusion of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. During the intervening years, Sarah Connor has died of leukemia and her son, John (Nick Stahl), has become somewhat of a nomad, never staying still for too long, avoiding human contact. Despite the belief that he and his mother averted the apocalypse, John still believes that it is not over. This belief becomes truth when a new machine, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), comes back from the future to kill John and twenty-two of his lieutenants. Through a somewhat contrived series of events, John meets up with one of these lieutenants, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Following the T-X is the always reliable T-101 (Schwarzenegger), whose mission is to keep John and Kate alive.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite his acting limitations, is still the only person on Earth who can play this role, and not only because he originated it. As the T-101, he exudes charisma and has great screen presence. The T-101 may be an unfeeling machine, but he is still a sympathetic character. And as usual, a Terminator movie is the best that Schwarzenegger gets, and it's nice to finally seem him back in full form.

Kristanna Loken replaces Robert Patrick as the film's evil machine, but she is less impressive. While the cool, unfeeling demeanor of Patrick's villain was effective and creepy, Loken comes off as wooden. I couldn't help but think that if the
T-X is such a superior creation, shouldn't she (it?) have a greater range of expression than the obsolete T-101? The rest of the casting is right on-target. Stahl, a capable dramatic actor, does an admirable job of replacing Edward Furlong as John, and Danes is good as what is essentially a replacement for Linda Hamilton's Sarah. Stahl and Danes also share a certain measure of romantic chemistry that helps things along.

There may not be a Terminator 4 (Schwarzenegger, barring political office, would not be interested), but even if there is not, Terminator 3 is a suitable final chapter. It doesn't revolutionize the action movie, and it won't change the way this type of movie is made, but it is still a greatly entertaining motion picture, and worth the time it took to get here.

© 2003 Matt Noller