Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Directed by: Johnathan Mostow
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken
Plot: As the inevitable end of mankind approaches, A terminator is sent back in time to ensure the survival of John Connor along with defending him from an even more advanced robot, the T-X.
Set 10 years after the events of the previous film, John Connor (Stahl) has become a drifter, living off the grid in order to avoid Skynet. Skynet have, however, sent their most advanced robot yet, the T-X (Loken), back in time to murder key soldiers in the future war and to ensure judgement day happens. After a chance encounter with his future wife, Kate Brewster (Danes), who is another target of the T-X, Connor now finds himself and Brewster being saved by another T800 terminator (Schwarzenegger) who has been sent back in time to protect them and to ensure they survive the oncoming nuclear attack.
After a twelve-year absence from the Terminator franchise, a third installment finally came in 2003 following years of selecting the right script and giving up the chase for James Cameron to direct – he had refused all offers after claiming that he had fulfilled his vision for the films. The producers of the film only just managed to convince Schwarzenegger to reprise his role, as he had spent years turning down offers for Terminator sequels with the insistence that Cameron be involved with any potential project; though he accepted after Cameron eventually told him to ‘take the money and run’. With Schwarzenegger being the only cast member from the previous two films returning, apart from a short appearance from Earl Boen who plays Sarah Connor’s psychologist, Dr. Silberman, the film relied entirely on Schwarzenegger as the film’s main appeal. Schwarzenegger’s appeal did, however, seem doubtful as concerns about his age overshadowed much of the film’s build-up, with fans wondering how a 54 year-old would be able to pull off a cyborg that didn’t age.
Credit has to go to Schwarzenegger, whose strict gym routine helped him achieve the same weight and muscle mass that he had 12 years earlier, and further credit goes to the make-up and effects department who were able to help Schwarzenegger look as if he had not aged in the between time. Arnold’s acting throughout the film however, was rusty; one or two scenes showed the Terminator showing a bit too much emotion and one too many human-like features. Schwarzenegger’s natural, sloppy acting was a huge part in making the terminator from the previous film so convincing. This same problem was mirrored with Kristanna Loken’s T-X, who also showed signs of being more human and expressing more emotion. While this could be argued by concluding that her robot was far more advanced and therefore intentionally more human, you’re still left being unconvinced of the T-X being a threatening killing machine. This is also emphasised with a lot of the T-X’s kills being censored, or shown off-screen in a ‘PG’ manner, which takes away a lot of the robot’s intimidation and threatening conviction.
Terminator 3, as a whole, was an unnecessary addition to the franchise that almost seemed like an attempt to squeeze one last Terminator film out of Schwarzenegger before his age would soon compromise his presence. Despite everything, Terminator 3 does a relatively smooth job of being a somewhat enjoyable film – it remained entertaining despite using the same format and similar plot structure to the previous films (also being the last to do so). There were several moments that didn’t seem right or make sense, which disrupted the flow of the film and failed to give it the polished touch that Cameron achieved with his two films, but it stayed relatively loyal to the franchise.
The big problem I personally had with the film was the casting of Nick Stahl, who never seemed right to play John Connor and failed to convince me. Original plans to let Edward Furlong return as John Connor were scrapped not long before filming started, due to the actor’s problem with substance abuse, gifting Stahl the role. It’s not that I had problems with his performance or acting, it’s just that he didn’t seem to have the charisma, or screen-presence, to be as big and complex of a character as John Connor. I know that John Connor was supposed to be weak and pathetic, which Stahl executed brilliantly, but I still felt they should have cast an actor that could portray not just a weak John Connor, but also one that could be a convincing heroic figure. While I felt Stahl had a generally good performance, there was no indication that his character would successfully develop and, with the lack of Linda Hamilton to portray the strong Sarah Connor, there was no real connection with any of the human characters.
Without the presence of Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Connor, the film needed an archetypal, strong female hero, which has become a crucial part of the Terminator franchise. While Claire Danes was able to slowly grow into that role throughout the film, Kristanna Loken was intended to be the proxy for that powerful female presence that was previously held by Sarah Connor. The twist on creating a female terminator was a great choice that added a nice twist to the series and, despite her flaws, I felt Loken played it well. But, with the likes of Carrie-Anne Moss originally planned to portray the T-X, it could have been an entirely different film; for the better.