Friday, July 04, 2003

Movie review: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for a Schwarzenegger action flick. I have been ever since I saw his portrayal of Conan the Barbarian in the early 1980s.

Whether Ah-nuld's swinging a sword at a giant snake that used to be James Earl Jones, tracking down the baddies who kidnapped his daughter or unloading a machine gun on an invisible alien, I've probably seen them all and enjoyed quite a few of them them in a mindless sort of way. (His attempts at comedy are another story altogether.)

That being said, I was still a little leery of a James Cameron-less Terminator movie. But relatively unknown director Jonathan Mostow has done a good job with the third installment.

Ah-nuld is back as the character that turned him into a major action star, and he's been sent through time once again to save John Connor (Nick Stahl) from a new Terminator model that's here to kill him. Sound familiar? If you've seen 1991's "T2: Judgment Day," it should. Still, it's deftly handled, and there's also a nice twist at the end that I won't give away here.

John Connor is now an adult. Judgment Day has been averted thanks to the efforts of Ah-nuld, John and Sarah Connor in "T2," but John's still not convinced that the battle is over. He has no ties to anything that can mark him. He's invisible. Of course, that doesn't stop the new T-X, played to the hilt by Kristanna Loken, from tracking him down. The T-X is actually after his future wife and first lieutenant in the coming war, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), but she stumbles onto both of them after Kate catches John breaking into the veterinary clinic where she works.

As usual, Ah-nuld arrives right on schedule to whisk the pair out of danger. They then lead the T-X on a merry chase to find Brewster's father - who is in charge of the revamped Skynet program which will bring about Judgment Day - and keep him from sending the system online to fight a virus that seems to be taking over all the computer systems in the world.

As with most action movies, you have to leave logic and reason at the door when you go into the theater. You can't wonder about how the T-X gets buried in the rubble of a wall early in the movie and emerges not only unscathed but without even getting her clothes dirty, but then later in the movie gets buried and emerges without skin or legs. If you stop to consider things like how Kate, John and Ah-nuld get into a top secret government building without being noticed, you'll drive yourself crazy. If you forget about it, shovel some more popcorn into your mouth and enjoy the ride, it's a great summertime movie.

That's another way this movie reflects "T2." It's pure special effects and action fun. While the original "Terminator" was a dark, brooding movie. This one's an excuse for chases, explosions, cool effects and rapid-fire one-liners from Ah-nuld. In fact, I'd venture to say that at least half the fun of a "Terminator" movie is seeing Schwarzenegger deadpan lines as a robot, erm, I mean cybernetic organism. Think of how many have entered the pop culture lexicon - "Hasta la vista, baby," "I'll be back."

You expect the special effects to be great in "T3," and for the most part, they're impressive. Perhaps not as groundbreaking as "T2," but certainly more polished due to advancements in the technology. The T-X character is also an interesting development. The robot skeleton gets a new look and this time, it's covered with a morphing metal that allows it to change into anything it touches. Then there's the handy dandy arm attachment that turns into whatever tool or weapon it needs.

Loken does a remarkable imitation of Schwarzenegger's original character as she stalks across the screen showing no trace of emotion or humanity. It's also kind of fun to watch a 100-pound woman tossing Ah-nuld around like a rag doll.

Outside of one chase scene that goes on far longer than it probably should, and the "I'll be back" jokes that get a little stale by the end of the movie, "T3" is a well-done and entertaining joyride. It's just what you expect from a summer movie, and exactly what you hope for (but don't always get) from a Schwarzenegger flick.

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