(director/writer: Jonathan Mostow; screenwriter: John Brancato/Michael Ferris/based on a story by John Brancato & Michael Ferris & Tedi Sarafian; cinematographer: Don Burgess; editor: Neil Travis/Nicolas de Toth; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Nick Stahl (John Connor), Claire Danes (Kate Brewster), Kristanna Loken (T-X ), David Andrews (General Robert Brewster), Mark Famiglietti (Scott Mason), Moira Harris (Betsy), Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman), Chopper Bernet (Chief Engineer); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mario Kassar/Andrew G. Vajna/Hal Lieberman/Joel B. Michaels/Colin Wilson; Warner Brothers; 2003)

“Makes for a fine summer blockbuster sci-fi action flick, as it throws no unnecessary curves to its expectant fan base.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Terminator 3 is back for the third time around for this venerable Arnold Schwarzenegger cybernetic venture, replacing previous director James Cameron with Jonathan Mostow (“U-571“) and adding actor newcomers Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes, and Nick Stahl. Mostow keeps it all action with plenty of eye-opening chases and quirky fight scenes, and he throws in lots of camp and amusing snappy quips that are mainly said through the clenched lips and in the robotic delivery banter of the possible next Republican governor of California. There’s also a few diverting sketches of the Terminator’s need to get the right pair of sunglasses, which he devotes himself to getting in the same single-mindedness he acts to complete his robotic mission. Thankfully this nonsensical flick doesn’t call for real acting, so the robotic delivery of the empty dialogue fits in absolutely perfect with the disposable story line and the forgetful characterizations. The film’s three main charms are its magnificent sense of pacing, the slick look and, of course, the muscular presence of Arnold–who was a natural for this part.

Arnold’s amusingly obsolete, as his T-101 model dating back from the time of the presidency of Bush 1 has to do battle with the newest T-1000 assassin machine villain — the icy, sexy blonde Terminatrix, simply called T-X (Kristanna Loken). The newer and more powerful machine than the 55-year-old Arnold’s, is programmed to drop-in on the past and kill humans and make sure destiny happens as scripted. The Terminatrix garbs herself in a red leather jumpsuit and has a bionic arm, which comes in handy when she goes into battle. Through some nifty special effect features the Terminatrix also changes shapes and has the ability to influence other machines to carry out her orders. The singularly impassioned mannequin-like T-X aims to hunt down the key humans that Arnold seeks to protect after he has been reprogrammed to be on the side of the good guys when captured in Terminator 2 by the resistance fighters. Arnold’s job is to keep the fated leader of the humans John Connor (Stahl) and his future bride Kate Brewster (Danes), alive through Judgment Day. That’s the day the world is set to be destroyed by nuclear weapons. There are lots of biblical symbols thrown around haphazardly without further probing their meaning, and something is made about how, maybe, fate can’t be changed even though “The future has not been written . . . “. But the argument for free will over destiny hardly has any conviction, at least as much as it did in the earlier episodes.

Terminator 3 spends time catching the viewer up with the previous episodes and smartly offers a terse summary in a voiceover delivered by John Connor before it moves full-blast into this replay of the other Terminators. Freedom fighter John prepared for the ultimate day when the machines would war against mankind, but that day never came. Judgment Day was suspended rather than canceled. John’s now a twentysomething drifter, who keeps a low profile and has no contact with others, as he’s still fearfully expecting the machines to attack again and is troubled by recurring nightmares of the apocalyptic kind.

The action opens in a stunning fashion, as first a naked T-X drops down at night into a swank Beverly Hills shop on Rodeo Drive and walks out on the street to take a fancy silver Lexus sports car from a shocked driver by eliminating her. Arnold also drops into LA in his birthday suit and goes to a strip club on ladies’ night and takes the male stripper’s black leather outfit. Meanwhile unsuspecting veterinarian Kate Brewster is called in early in the morning for an emergency and leaves the warm bed of her fiancé Scott, who is her soon-to-be deceased fiancé. At the clinic, Kate has a gun pointed at her by John Connor, who was stealing her animal drugs for personal use due to his injuries while living on the grid (he doesn’t want to give away his identity to an emergency hospital). Kate’s the daughter of General Bob Brewster, the honcho in charge of the secret weapons Skynet program in a site in the Mojave Desert. Pop must have taught her some good judo tricks, because she easily wrestles the gun away from John and locks him in a kennel. She soon recognizes him as a former classmate who disappeared, and looks at him with disgust at what he’s become. But things move very rapidly, and she’s stunned to find herself on the same hit list of the machines as John. The two vulnerable but hearty souls cling together from now on for dear life, as they realize it’s up to them to save the world (Remember John’s initials are J.C.!). The action builds from this early point on and never stops for a breath, which should please the crowds at the multiplex.

T-X mistakenly kills in a chic robotic way another she took for Kate, and then goes after the real Kate and John. But Arnold comes to the rescue of the humans and they flee in Kate’s clinic vehicle, while T-X commandeers a huge construction crane and uses it to pursue them. Other vehicles, such as a fire engine and many police cars, get smashed in the ensuing madcap chase. The point of the plot line builds to where a nuclear holocaust will begin at 6:18 p.m. and the question becomes if these two unlikely world saviors get to the top secret elaborate underground weapons control facility in time to disarm the machines and stop Skynet from launching its computerized attack. Well, I’ll let it hang at that–but it’s just like those Superman serial chapters that used to always end on a cliffhanger. In this case, the story line builds merely for another sequel. Terminator 3 was a little darker than what I expected and more fun than I thought possible for any film that seems more Bush Republican in its cowboy attitude than Gray Davis Democrat.

Though it doesn’t have the same intelligence that Ang Lee gave to The Hulk, nevertheless it does fit nicely into its limited niche of fun action films. It makes for a fine summer blockbuster sci-fi action flick, as it throws no unnecessary curves to its expectant fan base. In this summer of sequels, most of which have no justification to be made, Arnold Schwarzenegger and company do their franchise thing and don’t take themselves seriously in this B movie with an enormous budget of around $175 million. That’s a lesson “The Matrix Reloaded” and some other recent comic book blockbuster films could have learned. But if you’re looking for something novel, I’m afraid you’ll only get an old replay here. And, I might add, one without any need for further academic discourse.

REVIEWED ON 7/4/2003 GRADE: C +    https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/