Terminator 3

Gen-X-Reviews-Terminator-3The machine rises, then falls. Something clicks inside its belly as it resets itself. Then it rises again. And falls.

The new Terminator film feels less like a horrific prophecy than a complex wind-up toy. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger returns for the third installment of the Terminator franchise, but the codes and conventions of the first two films have solidified around this film so completely that nothing alive can escape it.

The new film takes place 10 years after Terminator II. John Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a drifter, living on the margins of society, believing that the danger of “Judgment Day” has passed. He has exacted his early adulthood “off the grid,” unplugged, riding his vintage Britain motorbike along pathways that never converge with the information highway, afraid of somehow being pulled back into his life.

Connor helped avert the future in T2, but this act has alienated him from any sense of purpose or destiny. He has lost some integral part of himself without the robot war and the extermination of countless human beings to contend with, and as a young man tortured by freedom he appears to have done little. Dropping out of society and severing his links to the past, he believes himself to be exempt from the prophecy that has haunted him since before his birth, but he’s wrong.

The future is out there, somewhere, searching for him. Every attempt that he makes to remove himself from the forces of history pull him in closer, and he is never so much subject of his destiny than when he thinks he is free. At this point the machine resets itself and history sucks him back in, illustrating that time really runs in only one direction.

He breaks into a veterinary clinic when he crashes his bike, apparently looking for painkillers. What he discovers instead is that history cannot be postponed. Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) is a doctor at the clinic and responds to an emergency call only to find Connor. Nothing happens without purpose in the Terminator world, and we discover Kate and Connor are destined to fight the machine hordes together.

Enter: Terminator number one (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and T-X (Kristanna Loken). The terminators are, of course, poised to fight over a future that should by now be obvious. This is the third time machines have been sent through time to change history and the third time the future has proven to be beyond manipulation. If my calculator reasoned this poorly I’d bring it back to Radio Shack, but these robots don’t seem to be designed to compute statistics.

Machine power is on display throughout the film. Doublewide trucks tear through the street, cop cars smash into buildings, high-voltage wires spark. I wouldn’t trust a toaster oven in that reality. The terminators represent two kinds of machines. Schwarzenegger’s terminator is a big old SUV of a hulk, something you’d take off road or load wood into while T-X (or the Terminatrix) is a Barbie doll gone bad: Smooth, efficient, oddly reptilian, she is a Lexus version of Stephen King’s Christine.  
Despite the fact that the special effects are very good, there’s little novelty in this film.

Schwarzenegger’s terminator look has become dated, somehow quaintly retro, and the movie plays with our expectations as to how he should look. At a convenience store he looks for sunglasses, trying on several outlandish pairs before settling on his trademarked rims.
The film’s snappy one-liners are reminiscent of the earlier films and serve as purely comic effect. “She came baaack,” Schwarzenegger growls at one point, sounding a little too much like a Saturday Night Live skit.

And although Schwarzenegger is as formidable as ever, there’s something odd in his portrayal. Solid and brick-like, he seems, however, to have picked up some nasty habits as a B actor. He’s no longer pure body, no longer the opaque block of muscle he once was. Back then his poor acting – or his total inability to act – worked in his favor. He genuinely seemed to be incapable of conveying human expressions.

Now, however, he can act – poorly. He can’t help but show emotion, to bring a human dimension to the character. The result is uncannily like Ronald Reagan pretending to be president of the United States, reading off a teleprompter, his voice edged with artificial drama. Schwarzenegger’s just not good or bad enough to make the role work anymore.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is less a fully developed movie than a metallic echo of a good idea; a mirage of steel and special effects; something true turned into the quality of Hamburg.


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