Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Like the Alien series, the first two entries in the Terminator series are embraced as classic movies. The 1984 original was a nerve-jolting thriller whose success is all the more remarkable when you consider that its writer-director, James Cameron, only had one other directorial credit to his name at that point: the rightfully disliked Piranha II: The Spawning.

The first sequel, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, was an exhilarating action film that also managed to carry on the themes of its predecessor without having its awesome SFX overshadow those themes.

The ending of Terminator 2 seemed to have a more definitive upbeat ending compared to the original film. But the film’s enormous financial success, which far surpassed that of the original film, made talk of a sequel inevitable. In between the two films, Cameron scored again with Aliens and The Abyss, and after Judgment Day, he did so again with True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar.

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Eventually, a third film got the green light without Cameron’s involvement, although he did give the project his blessing. But most people were content with the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger would once again play a seemingly unstoppable killing machine (you can’t say “reprise his role”, as his characters in the previous two films are dead at the end). This actually coincided with the actor’s announcement that he would run for the office of Governor of California, which no doubt added to the appeal of a new Terminator film.

Another veteran of the first two films would also not return for the third, and that was Cameron’s ex-wife Linda Hamilton. In addition, Edward Furlong, who played John Connor in Judgment Day, wouldn’t reprise his role because of his legal issues. But the fact that Arnold, the most famous actor associated with the series, would return was enough for most fans. Alas, the finished product would end up marking the beginning of the end for this series.

The film begins with John (now played by Nick Stahl) narrating that, following the passing of his mom, he doesn’t have a cell phone or email address. The date of Judgment Day in the previous film, August 29, 1997, has come and gone, but John is still on edge about such an eventuality, even having visions about the war between humanity and the killing machines created by the computer Skynet.

One night, he’s driving his motorcycle down a lonely road and briefly loses control, and he hits the ground to avoid hitting a deer.

Elsewhere, what do you know? The time travel bubble seen in the previous film delivers another traveler-the T-X (Kristanna Loken). She walks naked thought the conveniently deserted streets of Beverly Hills, although the only woman she sees ends up having a bad day, as the T-X violently takes her clothes and her car. Driving it, the T-X uses the woman’s phone to interface with its system in order to pinpoint the locations of her targets. But the speed she’s driving at prompts a cop to pull her over. She does so, and while the cop is making his way to her, she sees a Victoria’s Secret billboard which prompts her to, I kid you not, enlarge her breast size.

One of the T-X’s targets, veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) is at a store working on the wedding registry with her fiancee Scott (Mark Famiglietti). Amusingly, the registry gun’s inability to work prompts Kate to go “I hate machines,” before she picks up her cell phone. On the other end is her dad, Robert (David Andrews), who’s in charge of the Skynet project, and he’s calling to say hi.

In another part of town, another time travel bubble appears, producing another Terminator that looks like Arnold. Again, he’s in the buff, but this time, he winds up in a bar that actually doesn’t find it unusual that’s he’s in the buff. This is because said bar is having their ladies’ night, complete with male strippers. Arnold scans the clothes size of everyone around him (including a woman, which his programming deems “inappropriate”), before finding a match in the stripper that comes onto the stage, despite the fact that he’s clearly of lesser build than Arnold. The stripper lamely tells him to “talk to the hand” when asked to lose his clothes immediately, before Arnold does that very thing. The “laughs” continue when Arnold walks outside clothed and instantly crushes the star-shaped sunglasses that were in the stripper’s pocket.

The T-X goes to the drive-in of a restaurant called Jim’s Burgers and addresses the drive-thru attendant by name. At the window, she confirms his identity before killing him and speeding off. Next, we see a group of teens at a house enjoying beer and TV, which is reporting news of a computer virus that’s causing trouble. The T-X pulls up, prompting one of the teens to assume it’s his mom, and he frantically tells his guests to lose the beer. He opens the door to see the T-X, who asks if this is the residence of William Anderson and his sister Elizabeth. He confirms that it is, before the T-X pushes him down and empties a pistol into him.

At her apartment, Kate is woken up by a message saying she’s needed at her animal hospital. She assures the sleeping Scott that she won’t be long and heads out. She arrives and finds John stealing medicine. After saying he couldn’t go to a nearby clinic because he has no ID, Kate subdues him with the paintball gun he was armed with and tosses him into a nearby cage. The patient who alerted Kate arrives, saying her cat needs help, and Kate tells her to wait in a nearby room while she confronts John. She reminds him that they went to school together, and that she hadn’t heard from or about him since the T-1000 killed his foster parents in the previous movie.

They’re startled by a crash. Kate goes to investigate and is prompted to hide when her customer slumps to the floor with a gunshot wound. The T-X stands over her asking if she’s Kate, and upon tasting her blood, determines that she isn’t. Kate stays hidden as the T-X keeps searching. The latter then comes upon a cloth with blood on it. Tasting it, she determines that the blood is John’s. Kate bolts to her van, but the T-X tosses her out of it and pins her down, and asks her where John is. That’s when Arnold appears driving a truck, crashing through a wall and hitting the T-X (and conveniently not harming Kate). He comes out, asking where John is. She tells him, and then he locks her in the truck of her van. John manages to break out of the cage and meets up with the male Terminator. He asks if he’s here to kill him and the answer is no. With that, the Terminator puts John into the van’s driver’s seat and tells him to haul ass, while the T-X reappears and fights the Terminator and subdues him.

Paramedics arrive and the T-X uses the chance to hack up the nearby police and fire department vehicles, before she takes off in a truck with a huge crane. The paramedics are startled when the Terminator revives and takes off on a police motorcycle. Everyone is also startled to find that the T-X’s work on their vehicles has given them the ability to drive themselves.

On the road, John is startled that Kate is in the back but ignores her demands to stop. This bickering leads to him rear-ending a guy, who’s rightfully pissed off. But he’s soon given more reason to be pissed as John takes off and the approaching police cars ignore him and finish the job that John started. The T-X and the Terminator both close in on John, leading to a too-long, headache inducing car chase scene that even Kate, at one point, shouts that she wants to end as she’s continuously tossed around the back of her own truck. Eventually, the Terminator takes the driver’s seat from John and temporarily defeats the T-X long enough for the trio to escape.

On the road, John is astonished that the Terminator even exists, given the events of the last film. He simply states that Judgment Day is inevitable and the actions of the previous film only postponed it. He also informs John that Kate’s survival is essential, as she’s a target as well. Stopping for gas and food, Kate makes an unsuccessful attempt to escape, prompting the attendant to call the police.

The police arrive at her apartment to inform Scott, unaware that the T-X has already killed him and has now assumed his form. En route to where Kate was reported to have been taken, the T-X gruesomely dispatches the two officers in the car.

Our three heroes stop at a mausoleum where Sarah Connor is interred. John explains that Sarah died of leukemia a few years back. Kate expresses sympathy before the Terminator smashes open Sarah’s vault. The coffin contains not her body, but a crap load of armaments. Kate quickly takes one and threatens to shoot the Terminator, a threat that ends predictably, although Kate is flabbergasted. Police arrive and toss smoke bombs into the mausoleum, giving Kate a chance to escape. As the authorities attempt to flush out John and the Terminator, she chats with Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen, reprising his role from the previous two pictures) who tells her from personal experience that extreme situations such as this can cause one to see strange things happening. Deja vu kicks in for him as the Terminator appears holding Sarah’s coffin, scaring the doctor off. The police attempt to stop him with their bullets, but the Terminator tosses the coffin in a hearse before getting into the driver’s seat. John turns out to be inside the coffin, and when the Terminator says they have to retrieve Kate, he asks why she’s so important. The reason turns out to be that Kate will be his wife in the future.

Kate herself is running away and comes across the T-X, still disguised as Scott. Before she can embrace him, the T-X returns to its original form, even though one would think a programmed killing machine would have waited until she was closer, making it easier to kill her. The hearse drives up and Kate gets inside, where the Terminator informs her of the T-X’s ability to assume the form of others and that Scott is now dead. Another chase ensues before the T-X is once again evaded, although a passerby quickly glimpses her repairing herself.

Our heroes stop near a conveniently abandoned trailer while Kate mourns Scott. The Terminator informs them of the T-X’s other targets, which include Kate’s father due to his connection to Skynet. This prompts John to order the Terminator to take them to him so they can stop the impending nuclear attack, but the Terminator says he can’t. John threatens to kill himself, but the Terminator calls his bluff. But Kate’s pleas prompt the Terminator to take them to Robert.

En route, Kate is having trouble getting a phone signal, which the Terminator says is Skynet preparing for its attack. At the military base, Robert’s boss is telling him to activate Skynet in order to get rid of the aforementioned-virus, although Robert has misgivings about doing so. Sure enough, Robert reluctantly carries out his orders only for the systems to start acting up. The T-X arrives disguised as Kate, and is promptly shot up by the Terminator, who arrives with John and the real Kate. But it doesn’t take long for the T-X to revive and shoot Robert.

The T-X is once again temporarily subdued while our heroes take Robert back to his office. The general instructs them on how to open his safe, which contains necessary codes for a nearby military base. Everyone else on the base is soon running frantically as the T-X works her reprogramming magic on the prototype Terminators, which are under tarps. As Robert dies, the Terminator tells John and Kate to head for the base while he takes on the T-X. John and Kate, likewise, take on the reprogrammed drones, prompting Kate to shoot one down, which leads John to say she, you guessed it, reminds him of his mom.

The Terminator ends up being pinned down by the T-X, who subsequently does her reprogramming thing on him. She goes after John and Kate, but they manage to pin her down with a big magnet which looks like it begins to melt her. The prompts Kate to shout what I thought was a great line: “Just die, you bitch!”

After they run off, the T-X stops the magnet before it finishes her off. They reach a hangar with a small plane that Kate says she knows how to fly. The Terminator rejoins them, but tells them to keep away as he’s now been reprogrammed to kill them. He grabs John by the throat but stops short of killing him and shuts himself down. John and Kate take off, and shortly afterward, the Terminator’s systems reboot.

Arriving at the base with a lot of explosives, John and Kate use the codes they got from her dad to gain entry just as the T-X arrives. But the Terminator arrives at that moment and another fight ensures. John and Kate enter the base as the Terminator assures John they will meet again. He then kills the T-X and himself by using one of his fuel cells to blow them both up.

Inside the base, John is trying to find the system core he assumed would be here. Kate deduces that her dad instructed them to go to the base to survive. As it turns out, Skynet has no system core, and the nuclear holocaust begins. The film ends with John and Kate accepting their fate, acknowledging a radio signal from another base telling them their location.

This film certainly has some good moments. The scenes with the T-X hunting down her targets are intense. The idea of the internet (which wasn’t well-known when the previous film came out) playing a part in Skynet’s rise is also an original idea. While Danes’s character was created simply because Linda Hamilton declined to reprise her role, she does a good job playing someone suddenly pushed into an extraordinary situation, like Hamilton did in the original film.

But overall, the movie itself simply seems more concerned with being an action picture and nothing more. The idea that Judgment Day is simply written off as being inevitable unfortunately gives the movie an Alien 3 vibe to it. Loken isn’t bad in her role, but she doesn’t make the same dramatic impact that Arnold did in the first picture and Robert Patrick did with the T-1000 in the second. Incidentally, listen to Arnold on the Blu-ray commentary during the scene where she changes her bra size, which can be taken as a hint of the allegations that came his way after he ended his tenure as California’s governor.

Ironically, Arnold himself is another weak link in this film, as his attempts at one-liners in this film just fall flat. Maybe his governor campaign was occupying his mind during filming, but he seems to be going through the motions here.

Still, this installment made enough money to bring about two more sequels, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys, as well as a TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But like the Alien series, the first two entries remain the most beloved in the franchise.

Rob Kirchgassner

Rob is a blogger, critic, and author. His latest novel is a western: The Search West is available now from Amazon.

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  • Jordon Davis

    I liked this movie. It’s not necessarily good, but it’s good enough.

    • ppi23

      Disagree. Two Stars: Tolerable, ff you have to watch a movie on a Summer afternoon when its 105 degrees outside, and there are NO other options, then maybe. I have not seen it since theaters, but after the high bar set by T-2 this felt a huge disappointing step down for the franchise which I have not revisited since. The scene of an RPG hitting the T-X lacking any physics in the CGI explosion really stands out in my memory. James would have never allowed that to pass. The only thing they terminated was Isaac Newton and the laws governing existence in this world; so I like to say that in doing so, they murdered our ability to connect with the world of the film in that scene, just as they murder our ability to connect and feel the characters with the rest of the film.

      • ArmitageX

        I also always thought it was strange that the T-X was walking towards Kate in the graveyard while disguised as her fiance…and just randomly decides to change form. All she had to do was walk up and kill her, but…no…change form and alert her to the presence of danger. That’s just bad writing.

        • Bouncy X

          they had to show off the “cool 360 morphing effect” !! course they could have had it both ways, have her as the TX first and then change to her boyfriend but Kate doesn’t see it yet and its just for the audience’s enjoyment. this way her cover isnt blown and Kate is in potentially more danger since “we” know.

  • maarvarq

    The trouble with spinning this concept into a franchise is that there really is nowhere to go, just round and round, trying to concoct variants on essentially the same story.

  • Toby Clark

    Unpopular opnion here: I actually have bigger problems with Terminator 2 than this one. Which is not to say that T2 isn’t the better movie overall, but as a time travel story it screws up a lot of what I love about the original (eg, the predestination paradoxes) and I find it inexcusably clumsy that it can’t even keep track of what year it’s supposed to be (at least ten years and nine months after the first movie in May 1984, but also at least three years before Judgment Day in August 1997?). I also have major suspension of disbelief issues with the T-1000 existing at a time when T-800s were supposed to be a recent development (the T-X doesn’t bother me so much since it’s still limited to a human shape), as well as the inconsistent rules about what can and can’t travel through time (which wouldn’t bother me if Sarah had questioned it at some point).

  • Tyler Peterson

    I liked Terminator 3. The first two Terminator movies had a lot of great thematic material, and T3 has some surprisingly weighty stuff about the parent-child relationship, disillusionment, free will, responsibility, the challenges of adulthood, and much else. T2 established the T-800 as John’s surrogate father, and T3 continues that tradition by changing their dynamic into something more resembling that of a concerned parent and a wayward adult child, eventually convincing John at long last to accept the mantle of responsibility.

    The villain is lackluster, woodenly acted and not very menacing, but raises some interesting gender issues given that she’s A) female, B) better at stealth and evading detection than any previous movie Terminator, C) more willing to use sexuality as a misdirection, and D) more overtly malicious. The scene where she licks the bandage in an extremely sexualized manner, and cumgasps as she detects John’s DNA, is a bit of extremely stupid brilliance.

    The action scenes are uneven, but when they’re good they’re extremely good (the first-act car chase, the breakout from the mausoleum).

    I kind of got off on a tangent there, but in a nutshell, T3 is a worthy Terminator movie, haters be damned. It’s the last Terminator I acknowledge ( along with Season 1 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

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