At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti, Earl Boen, Jay Acovone, Kim Robillard, Mark Hicks, Billy D. Lucas/ Runtime: 109 minutes

Looking at this movie with the benefit of, as of this writing, close to 2 decades having coming and gone since its’ initial release back in the 2003, I think that rather than call it Rise of the Machines maybe just maybe film helmer Jonathan Mostow’s captain’s log during his time at the helm of the U.S.S. Terminator should have been given the much simpler title of Terminator: Inevitable. A conclusion I have reached since I feel that another sequel to both one of the finest and original, at the time, sci-fi movies ever made and one of the biggest and most amazing summer blockbusters ever made period was truly all but….well inevitable. Less quippy and looking at it more of the perspective of this slice of cinematic pie and the overall pie that it belongs to though, it is obvious that the idea of inevitability is one which is crucial to the narrative that this franchise has created for itself. Yes this franchise loves to remind us every chance that we get that there really truly is no fate but what we make for ourselves, but in all fairness dear reader I feel that fate here is just a fancy placeholder for the word inevitable. Indeed fate can be molded and figured out and even foretold, but what fate has in store for us is, one way or another, inevitable and all we can do is just be ready to meet it head-on when it arrives in our lives. To that end, the “fate” or “inevitable” at the heart of this story is the nuclear decimation brought about by franchise antagonist Skynet which results in, what else, the titular rise of the machines. Yet for all the gruff that this film has received over the years since its release, even from myself I am willing to admit, I have come to see (thanks to such entries as Terminator Genisys in 2015 shudder) that this film does at least showcase the essence of what this franchise has been all about since the beginning. Yes it might not have the lean-mean, visceral edge of the original from 1984 or the summer blockbuster-levels of both awe and fun as Judgement Day did in 1991, but Rise of the Machines does serve on some level as a basic yet still enjoyable to an extent entry in this storied franchise whose only real purpose for existence was to set the stage. Not only for everything that came first, but for all the “fun” (to say nothing of tie-in Burger King burgers that would give you indigestion for a week in 2015) that this franchise would hurl our way after.

The plot is as follows: It should come as no surprise to learn that this film opens with the reveal that yet again a killing machine known as a Terminator has traveled back in time in order to do away with people who in their time will be key combatants in a conflict between man and machine in a doomsday world that has been torn apart by nuclear genocide. Yet among her latest group of targets, oh yes I guess I should mention that this latest killing machine known as the TX is one that shows up in the form of a gorgeous female, is a woman by the name of Kate Brewster, a woman who incidentally is not just the daughter of an Air Force bigwig who’s about to unwittingly unleash the dreaded Skynet on the world (gasp). In fact, Miss Brewster is also the future 1st Lieutenant and spouse of human resistance fighter/ the franchise’s Jesus figure of sorts John Connor who in the present timeline has been living on the fringe edge of society and left constantly in doubt as to if what he and his mom did has saved humanity or not. To that end we see John accidentally, or is it predestined (?), breaks into the animal clinic where Kate is employed due to being in desperate need of first aid equipment. Yet whilst our dynamic duo are predictably attacked by the TX at that moment, they are also (predictably) rescued by a savior in the form of yet another reprogramed T-800 Terminator that has also (big surprise) been sent back with the mission of keeping both John and Kate safe at all costs. However when our dynamic duo think they have discovered a possible entry point that could help thwart the “inevitable” arrival of Judgement Day, our duo finds themselves in a race against time to shut down Skynet despite the odds against them to say nothing of the fact that their Terminator protector is specifically programed  on making sure they are safe before anything else in the world.

Now this film might just serve as no more and no less than a patience-testing build to a finale that is incredibly bold, but at least it’s build-up that knows how to have fun. Indeed even though this film was supposed to operate as a bridge in this franchise, the film is mostly a gonzo summer popcorn film that tries to be “big”. To that end, we see that film helmer Jonathan Mostow makes the decision to not often permit his movie to go for long without either some kind of action beat or plugging up some serious plot holes in this universe whilst also paying his dues to what came before courtesy of things that fans of the franchise will catch right away. Yet even with that in play, it is the action beats that are why you must be watching this and engaging is a pretty fair descriptor of it. Indeed this film really is what you could desire if you are hankering of mindless yet engaging action that is smooth, and well thought-out and orchestrated. Not only that, but the action’s scope doesn’t really tarnish the brand name in any way as we get to giddily watch as a pair of cybernetic organisms go toe to toe once more whilst using practically everything in their immediate vicinity as weapons to pummel the ever loving heck out of each other. Suffice it to say then Mostow proves himself worthy to handle this film. Not only for the action beats, but for giving us a finale that is not only one of the more gutsy conclusions in a mainstream film, but is also a crucial aspect to the franchise as a whole, but is also both a brave stand towards calling to task the typical Hollywood way of wrapping a film up whilst also strengthening the series’ main thematic concept of fate/inevitability in a way that is genuinely applause-worthy.

Now for all the intriguing enjoyment that comes with how this movie chooses to wrap things up, and no it is not terrible to appreciate a conclusion like the one this slice of cinematic offers movie goers; after all that is the intrinsic value of cinema to say nothing of art period in that everyone’s tastes will always be different, this movie still would not operate on the level that it does if the script wasn’t halfway decent, the helmsmanship actually competent, and there were at least some well-done performances that all not only give the lore this saga had already set up with the respect it is due, but also aid in setting this film up as necessary to the brand to the extent that James Cameron’s touch can be seen all over this film despite only being billed as the series’ creator. Yes perhaps this entry isn’t as intelligent or iconic as those helmed by Cameron, but as far as to whether it fits in or not, there can be no denying that this film, more than Genisys at least, deserves to be part of the family. Yes it most definitely would take more than just the conclusion to make the movie truly special, but the conclusion to this film did at the time and still does to an extent really make this franchise something a lot more tangible and trust me when I say that the ending to this film is not only perfect for the fans, but also a beautiful realization of the main theme that is part of the beating heart of this franchise. Indeed the fact that this film doesn’t toss that integrity on a bonfire is clearly the best positive this film has going for it with the fact that there are some performances in this being a distant second. Rocking the jacket and shades as the T-800 yet again, it should come as no surprise to learn that Schwarzenegger again owns the part 110% even if in this one he is not as menacing, age tends to do that to even Terminators apparently, and feels more like a frustrated parent whose grown children continue to do everything except what they should do which is just listen to him. As for the performances given by Nick Stahl and Claire Danes as John Connor and Kate Brewster respectively they’re fine, but given that these are young people in a 2000s movie don’t be surprised when I tell you that they do whine a little bit especially Stahl, but thankfully they manage to subdue it by film’s end.

All in all I think it is fairly safe to say that for a lot of fans of the Terminator franchise, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was where things began to go off the rails, but still managed to stay fairly on the right side of things. Indeed this is most definitely one of the more “independent” films in the series since it is a film that operates more as a summer popcorn film than an entry in the Terminator franchise, but in all fairness at least this film checks off a fair amount of the boxes that it needed to and to such an extent that this film at least should be praised for having one of the darker but no less enjoyable conclusions to a mainstream Hollywood film. Yes the film by every right could’ve and should have been a better sit than it turns out to be and yes it also starts the now time-honored franchise tradition of taking more than its fair share of liberties, but as a hybrid of both a summer popcorn film as well as a slice of cinematic pie that was meant to serve as the gateway to potential future chapters then it really is hard seeing how, Terminator Salvation from 2009 aside, it could’ve done any better than it ultimately did. As for worse well there is a Genisys of an idea that Hollywood did that’s out there, but that’s another story for another time…… On a scale of 1-5 I give Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines a solid 3 out of 5.