|Let me get this out of the way first off... I liked this movie. I'm bound to be really sarcastic with this movie, because... it's not that great... but in that I was expecting a pant load of satanic biblical proportions, I actually liked it more than I thought I would. This is truly a completely unnecessary sequel that I think we all could have lived the rest of our lives without seeing, but this film's worst crime is that it's been done before, and by better people. Sure there are a number of filmic misdemeanors, but this film falls short of a filmic felonious assault.
This film plays a lot less like a sequel than an inferior remake of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong here, but it's the inheritance itself that is disturbing. Series creator James Cameron wisely recognized that the series couldn't go further than it has following the same formula (assassin travels back through time followed by a defender... mayhem ensues). Enter Jonathan Mostow director of Breakdown and U-571 which I didn't see (but for a really good reason... that being, I didn't want to)! He's really not so bad a director, and knows action well, but also embraces Shatnerian Overacting as if it were an art form all its own. Cameron's directing is not what is missed the most though. T3 is only like this because Cameron declined. Without him C-2 Pictures was left without a script writer (Cameron usually writes or co-writes his own) so they elected to order a new writer to make it as Cameron as possible... so John Brancato and Michael Ferris decided to make it very Cameron like (because they borrowed so very much). Throughout there are Homages to the first two Terminator Movies as well as Spoofs (such as inversions of now-classic "Ah-Nuld" lines, and the Terminator applying starry Elton John Sunglasses rather than Bono's Wraparounds)! Unfortunately this plays against the film. Any time a series resorts to self-parody and farcical spoofing (of this and many, many other sci-fi properties) you know it's on a dramatic decline.
What was right about this movie? Well, besides the "wing" of the Republican star, there were several bright spots. For one thing, the T-X (or Terminatrix) played by Kristanna Loken (you might know her from... um...) is an interesting new character. Essentially she's an attractive female amalgam of the original Terminator and the Robert Patrick version (T-1000). It doesn't require much acting skills to play a Terminator, but she does fine with what she has. A major positive of this is that she is indeed an attractive female, and since in this mythos Time Travelers must go nude, it was so refreshing to see her nude rather than, Robert Patrick, or Michael Biehn! The character itself is interesting because of what she can do. The limitations of liquid metal only versus the limitations of flesh covered steel skeletons only are both explored, and it's interesting to see her use both to her advantage. The inconsistencies shared with the other Terminators (when she can do so much, why bother making some of the roundabout choices she does?) continue. Why does she need to look for clothes when she can make any clothes out of liquid metal (same as the T-1000)? Also... this time, she time travels directly into a women's clothing store... why should she bother walking naked down the street looking for clothes (not that I mind)? She's fun to watch... very interesting character, but not the most original thing in the world!
Arnold's Terminator is also interesting. I'm not saying that Arnold is (or should be) known for his acting range, but he, and the various creators, did their best to make sure he played three separate characters in the three separate movies. Here he is (again) reprogrammed to protect the good guys to defend the future, but he shares neither the personality nor the mannerisms (but to be sure, the tastes in clothing) as his various predecessors. He does a pretty decent job here of being likeable and humorous, without doing the exact same things (except in spoof moments) as the others. But like I said... as different as the mannerisms are, we've seen this already!
I consistently wonder two things though... in this and in T2 we saw "naked" Terminators without skin in battle. Wouldn't this defeat the purpose of having them ever flesh covered? Ostensibly the Flesh is to make them blend in with humans. In that respect, isn't it a little weird that so many of the Terminators look just like Arnold Schwarzenegger? It seems to me that he'd be recognizable by now. Call me butter, because I am on a Roll here... it's a major plot point here (though I won't say why) that the future John Connor has a weakness for the Arnold Schwarzenegger model Terminator because of the events of T2, but wouldn't that make his role as a freedom fighter against Terminators somewhat problematic? It's hinted that because these things come off an assembly line of sorts, that there must be a great number that look like Arnold (though he keeps getting older). Shouldn't Connor get all emotional every time he blows one up? Did Gregory Benford have a hand in this script? I don't know!
It's great to see Claire Danes working again... for a while I feared we'd read a story about her in the LA Weekly called "My So Called Career!" She's a really good actress, and does acceptably well with what the script gives her. It's clear that some of the moments were written for Linda Hamilton before she said "heck no" to this one. Her character Kate Brewster is somewhat inconsistent going from scared kid to tough as nails in less than a day. She looks pretty good, but doesn't look much like Claire Danes anymore for some reason. Nick Stahl plays John Connor with a wide-eyed curiosity. I got the impression that he was cast because he looks vaguely like Michael Biehn, and even more vaguely like Edward Furlong. Mostly he just reacts to what everyone else is doing, and hardly puts me in the frame of mind to think of him as the father of the future... don't worry though, there's plenty of time to flesh out his character... plenty of time.
That's right... there will be more movies in this series, of that there is little doubt. A refreshing thing about the first Terminator as well as Terminator 2: Judgment Day was that they specifically were not left open for a sequel. This one trips over itself in many ways to make sure that they were fully able to cash in on T4: Guess who's back! all the way up to T9: The Last Bastion of our Careers! If you listen closely you can actually hear the staff of C2 sighing "And so a new Franchise begins!" followed by several cha-chings! I'm not going to ruin the ending any more than the title and the taglines already did, but as long as there's profit to be made, and Arnold remains outside of Sacramento, we can count on a sick future.
It's hard to really detect the Gregory Benford moments in this film. It all sort of depends on whether or not T2 3-D: Battle Across Time is considered Terminator Official Canon (or if this one even is, man). In T3 we finally get to see the original primitive Terminators (known then as T1s), but they look more like the robotic police drones in the Robocop Series than the old style Terminators from T2 3-D: Battle Across Time! It could be said that the T2 3-D: Battle Across Time Terminators were of a later design, but that doesn't work well time-wise. Any time you get to messing around with time travel you end up with such paradoxes, and just as in Star Trek: Enterprise one must make allowances for multiple continuities (as confusing as they may be)! Connor even mentions that the past history was changed by the events in T2, and so this continuum is logical, but confusing. It's probably best not to think about it. There are still a great many things that don't make a lot of sense, but if the producers truly wanted a really sensible movie, it would be a lot different than the movie we ended up with!
I'm going to give this film Three Stars, almost in spite of myself. It's not very original, and it's not much more than a money vehicle, but it was interesting, and fun, and the special effects (such as the car chase scene... wow) are great. It's not as good as the second film, or even the first, but it's better than I thought it would be, and it was not a waste of my time. I wonder if Gray Davis will start making movies like this after the whole political intrigue thing has settled down. God Willing!
There are four major reasons this film got made... they are as follows: Batman & Robin, End of Days, The 6th Day, and Collateral Damage! With such Damage to Arnold's career (and films closing on the sixth day after opening) it was almost the End of Days for our boy as if Batman and Robin had just thrashed his resume. So he goes back to proven ground, like Billy Crystal producing Soap: The Next Generation or something! Arnold always said he never wanted to do any sequels, but made an exception for T2! Now that it's "get a hit, or get out of Hollywood!" he's saying he always wanted to make this movie. Sure... and Burt Reynolds' straight to video work was all premeditated! Ah, well, it's either make movies, or become governor of California. Um... Hey, Arnold... I have a script for you to read, dude!