Let us travel back in time to the long July Fourth weekend and reflect on the movie event of the high summer season. Jonathan Mostow's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the über sequel. Take the characters from a smash hit that has already produced a smash hit sequel and remake the sequel without changing a single ingredient. Only bigger and better. Or at least louder. Make another smash hit by smashing up every last thing you can think of.
You know the story. It's like one of those plagues that lies dormant for years and then swirls out of hiding every decade or so to pester you to petulance. Sometime in the future, John Connor will save humanity from the tyranny of robots. He's been destined to do that since he was just a look of grim determination in his mama's eye. Back in 1984, the T-1 terminator was Ahnuld Schwarzenegger's career-making role. A bad guy from the future, he was supposed to kill Connor's mother (Linda Hamilton) to prevent Connor from being born. "I'll be back," he said memorably. And just like an Ahnuld doll with one of those little strings on the back of his neck that you pull to make him talk, he's been saying it ever since. Since 1991, Ahnuld has been a good terminator, still a killing machine from the future, but now assigned to protect John Connor since Ahnuld had failed as a bad terminator and Connor had been born and grown up to be a noticeably uncharismatic kid (Edward Furlong).
Ahnuld's assignment in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was to protect Connor and Mom from a T-1000 (Robert Patrick), who was made out of liquid metal and could pour himself under doors and through keyholes or mold his hands into swords. He could run fast, too. Ahnuld is one bad-ass dude, but he has his hands full protecting Connor from the T-1000, not to mention the bullies at Connor's school.
Today Connor (Nick Stahl) is 22 years old and still charismatically challenged. The script keeps telling us that this guy will eventually lead humanity to victory over the machines, but directors keep casting actors who seemingly couldn't get anyone to follow them in a conga line. Ahnuld, inevitably, is back and saying variations of "I'll be back" every five minutes or so. This time the T-1's assignment from the future is to protect Connor from a T-X (statuesque model Kristanna Loken who has mastered the ability to walk with menace and twist her head without focusing her eyes). The T-X is to the T-1000 as my new Ford Explorer is to my old Ford Explorer: It's exactly the same, only with a few added bells and whistles. The T-X is still made out of liquid metal. So she can mold her fingers into needles, screwdrivers and knives. But she can also mold her fist into an Uzi and shoot the dickens out of whatever you happen to be hiding behind. Since the bullets she keeps firing are presumably part of her liquid metallic self, I kept wondering if she could finally shoot herself into non-existence. But then wondering is something you should definitely avoid while watching a Terminator movie.
The plot in Terminator 3 can be summarized thusly: run, hide, fight, thwart, run, hide, fight, thwart, run, hide, fight, thwart, etc. Now Connor's mom is dead -- Linda Hamilton, James Cameron's now-ex-wife, presumably either wanted too much money to appear in this second sequel or else was suddenly stricken with a bad case of dignity. So the savior of humanity has a new sidekick, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a veterinarian who once made out with Connor when they were both in junior high school but ever since then they've been living in different time-space continuums. Connor is barely out of adolescence and only has to shave his hair once a week or so. But Kate has rushed ahead to be at least five years older, finish vet school and open her own pet clinic. Connor and Kate do the running and hiding. Ahnuld does the fighting and thwarting. Just as was true in Terminator 2 when he couldn't defeat the T-1000, he can't defeat the T-X this time. But boy can they mess some stuff up when they get it on.
The script consultations among the team of writers who decided to remake Terminator 3 with a woman instead of a man as the villain (film buffs will understand this decision as an homage to Species), must have consisted of trying to imagine something else to destroy. Here's an incomplete list of what this picture reduces to rubble: a car, a bus, a pick-up, a fire truck, a semi, an emergency utility vehicle with cherry picker, a hearse, a Winnebago, a picket fence of telephone poles, a whole economic district of buildings, a drone airplane, two helicopters and Earth. Terminator 3: a weapon of mass destruction.
- Look familiar? Arnold Schwarzenegger takes time out from campaigning to save the world in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.