When I started watching these movies again a few weeks back, this might have been the one I really didn’t have any feelings about going into it. Mostly because I remember very little about it, probably because it’s been over 15 years since I saw it last. So, upon this rewatching of the movie, would it do enough right or wrong to elicit any kind of strong emotional reaction from me?
Like Dark Fate, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a direct sequel to Terminator 2. Coming out in 2003 and being directed by Jonathan Mostow, this is the first movie in the franchise that James Cameron ended up having very little to do with, mostly due to there being a big old mess surrounding it and who exactly owned the rights to it. What with studios going bankrupt and people playing bidding wars with one another to drive up the price. Which meant that whoever would end up buying it would have to make the movie on the cheap.
Something that doesn’t usually fly when it comes to a James Cameron production. Plus, between the price of the rights to the Terminator name and the price Schwarzenegger himself was asking to be in the movie, it was becoming an over $100 million project before it even started the writing process.
So instead, we got this first movie that had gotten away from its original creator and was directed by a guy whose only other major directorial release was a submarine movie called U-571.
T3: Rise of the Machines is a movie whose existence in any greater historical context leaves many questions as to whether it needed to exist. Like with the other large, creature driven franchises such as Alien and Predator, this movie really does feel like a product of the studio system. Not a movie that had anything original to say or technology to drive forward, especially compared to the first few that made the Terminator name so big in the first place.
You could say that I could go on this rant about any of the previous terminator movies I’ve watched up until this point, but this is the movie that made that transition from pushing the boundaries of technology and filmmaking into something that was merely a studio movie that really felt like a product of its time. And a product of its time it certainly feels like. There is some powerful early 2000s energy to this movie right from the get go. Exemplified perfectly by the choice of making the bad guy Terminator into a sexy lady.
And honestly, Kristanna Loken’s role as the T-X is just about the most interesting talking point of this entire movie, and not really for any of the right reasons. I touched upon what made Gabriel Luna such a good Terminator as the Rev-9 when I started this series with Dark Fate. How he was able to change his accent and his demeanour each time he spoke to someone to better put them at ease and make them trust him. He was the perfect infiltration unit.
I’m sure I’ll also get into it in the upcoming entries, but on the other end of the spectrum; the very thing that made the T-800 and the T-1000 so scary in the original two movies were just how inhuman they ended up being, coupled with how unstoppable they seemed. Brushing aside the fact that making a Terminator look like an attractive woman is actually a brilliant idea from an in-universe perspective, Lokin here feels like she’s on the screen to act purely as eye candy.
She never comes across as particularly intimidating, nor does she display any emotion to make her better blend in while pursuing her targets. It fails in both aspects of what made a good Terminator from both in in-universe perspective and as an audience member. The movie seemed like it wanted to make her this unrelenting force, like with the first Terminator movie, and yet they made the choice to cast someone like Christina Lokin, who can only carry so much physical presence in comparison to someone like Arnold in his prime. Early 2000s CGI can only do so much to help this.
And she’s not helped at all by how the movie itself presents her. Which makes T3 feel very dated in many respects. Obviously, she shows up naked, as everyone who time travels does. But her outfit for the rest of the movie is this tight, red leather getup with this long stiletto heel boots. And then there’s the way she carries herself. For example, the way she smears her finger through blood and sucks it off her own finger to identify if it belongs to her target.
Coupled with the fact that she makes a bit of an o-face when she identifies blood as belonging to her primary target. She’s got this erotic, sexed up dominatrix thing going on that really stinks this movie up as a product of the late 90s/early 2000s. Even John refers to her as a “Terminatrix” later on, so it knows exactly what it’s doing.
Honestly, she’s probably the weakest Terminator in any of the movies of the franchise in terms of her presence and how scary she is as an antagonist. While John Connor in Genisys was a bad Terminator, he was an effective villain for the movie. he just missed the point of the series’ namesake.
If I did have to point out something I felt positively about the movie; it’d be the movie’s setting that does kind of work for me. The b-plot involving Robert Brewster and his involvement in the launching of Skynet as a counteragent to a very Y2K-like breakdown of the world’s computer systems is interesting. This was a movie made during the era of that being at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and I feel like it was implemented into the movie pretty well.
Here’s the thing, dating a movie isn’t always a bad thing. Even though I was scarcely old enough to remember how big a deal the whole Y2K thing was/wasn’t, I know enough about it that seeing it incorporated into the movie feels smart, like they were taking current events and using them to enforce a feeling that already existed within their audience. It’s things like objectivation of women that ages poorly.
When it comes to the overall events of this movie, for the most part its pretty wrote. Nick Stahl’s John Connor does feel like a continuation of Edward Furlong’s, as a burned-out, homeless petty criminal. But that doesn’t make him an especially attractive character, especially one whose supposed to lead a resistance. On the other hand Claire Danes as Kate Brewster ends up being the real star of the movie outside of Arnold himself.
The Terminator franchise is one driven by strong female characters, for the most part at least, and her character growth from a normal woman into a pretty competent badass is, by far, the most compelling arc throughout. John almost feel incidental by the end, his hollow face making him look like death warmed up right from the get go.
For the most part, I ended up struggling to pay attention to large segments of the movie as a consequence. Overall, the movie has a sillier, campy tone to a lot of it. Like with Arnold walking into a bar full of rowdy women and taking the clothes from a flamboyant male stripper. Another character who feels very dated watching this back.
And if that doesn’t sum it up enough, then there’s the fight between the T-800 and the T-X in the bathroom as the perfect example, with the pair hitting each other over the head with toilets and that whole crotch grab moment. It’s one of the climactic fights in the movie and it’s full of goofs and laugh moments that take you out of it.
At which point it was already very apparent that the fatalistic tone of the original movies is little more than a background element in this movie. Which kind of sucks because there was some real potential for having this movie’s final twist make much more of an impact than it does by the time it happens. For any of the reasons I can criticise this movie, I actually think the twist ending is one of the stronger aspects to it.
What with the time travel nonsense I’ve talked about leading up till now, how sometimes there is no fate but what you make, but other times it’s inevitable. This movie toys with the idea that Judgement Day can be avoided, like it was in the second movie, leading to the final moment that both Kate’s father and the T-800 lied to John and Kate in order to get them into the nuclear bunker so they can watch the nukes drop and survive them.
Had the movie carried more of the dark, doomsday feeling of the previous two movies, then this moment could have been a haunting moment for it to end on. Showing the utter devastation of the human race and bringing about the bleak images of the future we’ve seen in the precious movies as they come to pass. The problem being that ending is robbed from us because its preceded by a while lot of airy, action fluff.
I’ve got nothing against a movie changing its tone and becoming more of a popcorn flick, but I love the tone and feel of those first two movies so much that moving away from them for the third movie feels very deflating. The horror elements of the first movie were still present in the second, even if it was more of an action romp than the one that came before. And Salvation that follows still had some pretty dark and bleak imagery to drive it forward.
But both Michael Beihn’s and then Linda Hamilton’s performance in the sequel added a ton of weight to the events of the movie. They’d both lived through some horrific shit and were 100% prepared to do anything to prevent it from coming to pass. By comparison, Stahl’s Connor is a washed out bum, whose presence in the movie only really feels necessary as a point of the lore while getting emasculated by the presence of the good terminator and his future wife.
T3 isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just a forgettable one. There are aspects of it I really like, and had it pursued those aspects a little more in favour of being a very early 2000’s feeling action movie, then it could have been in there with the first two. Instead it drops the ball and puts Terminator firmly into that basket of movie franchisees that should probably be allowed to die.