A lot of things get wrecked in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” but in the process, something is rebuilt: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) was the last profitable Schwarzenegger film. The subsequent string of disappointments that included “End of Days” (1999), “The 6th Day” (2000) and “Collateral Damage” (2002) caused many to believe his bankability as an action star was finished. No wonder Arnold himself kept declaring his belief that another “Terminator” film would be made: If he didn’t hold out hope for that, what else was there?
“T3,” forsaken by original director James Cameron and given to Jonathan Mostow (“U-571”) instead, does not take itself too seriously. It acknowledges, as do all shrewd films in the 21st century, that it does not exist in a vacuum. Audiences haven’t merely seen the film’s predecessors; they have seen them spring up as cultural landmarks. It is therefore not only fitting, but perhaps even mandatory, that Schwarzenegger’s classic “I’ll be back” line — or some variation of it — be uttered in the new episode. He must wear leather, too, and sunglasses — but to tweak that formula is permissible, especially because it winks to the audience: “We know it’s a cliché now. We grew up watching the ‘Terminator’ movies, too.” Here is a film that works as an action film, and also as a mildly self-aware commentary on action films.
Mostly, however, it works as exactly the sort of summer blockbuster sequel fans crave. It includes a spectacular chase sequence through suburban Los Angeles, with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character hooked on a crane and smashing through buildings and vehicles for most of it. It answers the necessary questions — Didn’t “T2” say there would be nuclear war in 1997? What happened? — and puts forth new ones, which it also addresses. It has a familiar formula, but with slight twists, primarily in that the Terminator’s evil counterpart is a lady this time, played by model Kristanna Loken. She is called the TX, but you may call her the Terminatrix.
TX was sent from the future, as were her predecessors, to kill John Connor and his associates. The good Terminator, as before, is here to protect them. Both are unstoppable killing machines. You see the dilemma.
John is played by Nick Stahl, with Claire Danes taking the part of Kate Brewster, an old acquaintance of John’s who reluctantly finds herself involved with the current shenanigans. She is engaged to a very bland fellow, but she has a destiny that does not include him. I think you know where this is going.
Given that this is the third film in the series, it is not surprising that it feels a little rehashed, especially considering how rote the formula is: The hero flees an unstoppable killing machine that is eventually stopped. The enjoyment, if there is any, will be in the nature of the fighting, not in the sudden, thoughtful plot twists. “T3” is enjoyable on that level. It delivers as a knock-’em-down powerhouse popcorn flick, and though it may be nothing new, it’s certainly an exciting incarnation of something old.
B (1 hr., 49 min.; )