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T3: Rise of the Machines

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
T3: Rise of the Machines
from Film Forum, 07/10/03

"I'll be back."

Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to make good on that promise, returning for the third time to the explosive sci-fi franchise that made him a superstar. But James Cameron, the director who found fame and fortune with the first two installments, has not followed suit. This time the directorial duties fall to Jonathan Mostow, who gave us the lean, mean Breakdown and the suspenseful submarine film U-571.

Mostow's film catches up with the saga's human hero John Connor (Nick Stahl) while he is being hunted by a time-traveling T-X, a female terminator or "Terminatrix." Connor's only hope lies in the efforts of a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to arrive in similar fashion and save him. Meanwhile, an army of dangerous machines sets apocalyptic events in motion.

Cameron's explosive epics claimed to be about the grim threat of nuclear war and the way human ambition can lead to destructive consequences. But the real appeal of the films was in the violence itself, a pyrotechnic demolition derby. (Who would bother with a nonviolent Terminator film?) Like Jurassic Park 3, T3 dispenses with the character development and philosophical musings of its predecessors and goes right to the action, which rarely ever lets up.

Steven Greydanus (Decent Films) is thrilled with the results. "Against all odds, T3 is a smart, rousing extension of Cameron's paranoid fantasy that not only meshes seamlessly with the past and future continuities of the earlier films, but actually advances and develops the series' apocalyptic mythology." He highlights the "laugh-out-loud moments" and concludes that the action is "as big as or bigger than anything that's gone before."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says that with Mostow, "The franchise is in very good hands. The action sequences are outstanding, and the pacing of the film is excellent."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) disagrees, calling it "little more than a reboot of the two earlier installments. With all that ammo being fired, some of it was bound to hit the script, leaving gaping holes in story logic. The pyrotechnic parade is weighed down by a polemic on the immutability of fate, echoing Greek tragedy or a Calvinist sermon about predestination more than anything resembling the Catholic understanding of free will."

Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) launches an attack on the central character: "Action movie fans love to watch an amoral antihero do things they would never, and could never do. And therein lies the problem with turning the Terminator into an icon. All that matters to him is the end. He doesn't even think about justifying the means. It doesn't matter who he hurts, who he lies to and who he tramples in the process. It's an all-too-common movie theme, and as absolute truth slowly dissolves in our culture, it's becoming increasingly persuasive."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "This is clearly an R-rated movie for the adult sci-fi fans and in no way should be seen by underage kids or adolescents." She adds, "I . . . had to chuckle at the line, 'Your fate is what you make it', because as [Christians], aren't we glad that our eternal 'fate' is not defined by what we make it?"

Movieguide's anonymous critic says the film "contains a depressing ending, plot holes, strong foul language, some excessive violence, and a humanist worldview lacking strong positive values."

Mainstream critics are calling it one of the most impressive action films of the year.

from Film Forum, 07/17/03

Just as they did last week, Christian press critics continued expressing guarded praise and some degree of disappointment with the new Terminator film.

Gareth Von Kallenbach (The Phantom Tollbooth) writes, "The action is relentless and it is nice to see that real stunts were used for many sequences instead of being created by CGI, thus giving a sense of reality and unforced spectacle to the action that recent films such as The Matrix Reloaded and Hulk seemed to lack." Stunts aside, Von Kallenbach concludes, "The film does not have the depth of story and the emotional attachment that the previous two films had." But he still rates it "easily the most satisfying and entertaining of the summer blockbusters."

I agree with Kallenbach's assessment of the action. It was refreshing to see old-fashioned stunts and "How did they do that?!" set pieces. But he forgives the shallow storytelling more than I can. After the explosive, thrilling truck chase in the opening act, I found my interest waning as the characters explored territory that was far too familiar.

Worse, they only scratched the surface of the questions that Terminator 2 aggressively explored. At only 95 minutes—the shortest film in the trilogy—it feels like the longest. Picking up Edward Furlong's role as John Connor, Nick Stahl (In the Bedroom) gives his all, but he has very little to do outside of stating the obvious for the audience. His relationship with Kate Brewster (Claire Danes, miscast) strikes no sparks. And the film ends on a cliffhanger, promising us a sequel in which we will spend a lot more time with them. Not a happy prospect.

Roger Thomas (Ethics Daily) agrees that it's "not as satisfying as its predecessors. [It] lacks one important characteristic that made the first two films so impressive. Though the early films did have the thrilling action sequences mentioned above, they were also strong because they had quiet moments when information and emotions were paramount. The script for Terminator 3 could have used some of those moments."