Director: Jonathan Mostow

Have you ever noticed that sequels seem to pop up like hotcakes? All of Pierce Brosnon's Bond movies came out within a few years of each other, the Matrix sequels opened six months apart, and the average period between Friday The 13th movies is two years. But look at the Terminator movies. T2 was made seven years after the original, and it was another twelve years before the third chapter of the trilogy was made. Such a long period of time between them can only mean they'll have plenty of time to make each sequel as good as they possibly can, right? Not always.

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)Let's catch up with the plot: John Connor (Nick Stahl) is a homeless drifter living "off the grid" so there's no paperwork or computer files to prove he exists. Why? He's still scared that a Terminator might try to hunt him down again. That's when Skynet decides to alter their game plan a little. Since they can't find John Connor in the past, they'll go back in time to kill all of his lieutenants while they're just teenagers and twenty-somethings. To accomplish this, Skynet sends back a new-and-improved Terminator, named the T-X (Kristanna Loken). Sure, the prior two movies have given us gratuitous butt shots of Arnold, Michael Biehn, and Robert Patrick, but T3 made it almost worthwhile. Kristanna Loken is an attractive lady, folks.

Anyway, John wrecks his motorcycle and tears up his leg, so he breaks into an animal hospital and fixes himself up. Around that time, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), who works at said animal hospital, shows up and finds John. They don't know it yet, but Kate will end up being John's second-in-command and wife. She's also next on the T-X's hit list. Speaking of the T-X, guess who else shows up at the animal hospital. Yep, you guessed it. The T-X discovers that John's been there, and decides that she's gonna kill both him and Kate. Luckily for our heroes, somebody else has been sent back in time, too. What kind of Terminator movie would it be without a T-800? I just don't know. But Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up in the nick of time and saves John and Kate, leading to one of the wildest and most destructive chase scenes I've ever seen.

We also learn why Skynet and Terminators still exist, despite the destruction of Cyberdyne Industries at the end of T2. Turns out the government had just contracted Cyberdyne to assist the military in the creation of Skynet, and Cyberdyne's destruction just slowed things down for a decade or so. A super-virus has infected just about every computer in the world, affecting everything from the civilian Internet to government security. The military plans to use Skynet to combat the virus, but for a few crucial minutes, machines would be in complete control. Air Force official Robert Brewster (David Andrews), who just so happens to be Kate's father, wants to avoid using the untested prototype, but he's being pressured by his colleagues to take action. While Brewster weighs his options, Kate flees the T-X with the help of John and the T-800. Aside from the T-1000's morphing ability and an improved arsenal of weapons (including arms that can operate as energy cannons, flame throwers, and buzzsaws), the T-X isn't limited to that. She can also reprogram anything with a computer to do her bidding. This is demonstrated by the big chase scene near the beginning, when she manages to get driver-less police cars to operate as battering rams.

Those of you who liked the last twenty minutes of T2 will like T3. The movie just beats the viewer over the head with the action, squeezing in plot points whenever it feels like it. Unlike its two predecessors, all of the moments in which we try to develop dramatic tension between our three heroes doesn't work that well. Sure, the actors tried their best, but it just didn't really do anything for me. I thought Nick Stahl was good, but he didn't convey the same arrogance or brashness of Edward Furlong. Stahl's John just came off as being a whiny little turd. But then again, I guess that time has made John a different person, so maybe I should be a little more forgiving. Claire Danes, I was less than impressed with. Even though she brought depth to a poorly written, nearly useless character, Kate serves as nothing more than the cynical victim who becomes a tough believer by the end of the movie. She's no replacement for Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor (who we learn during T3 died of lieukemia between the two movies). You know, I heard that Linda Hamilton turned down the movie because she didn't want to be remembered for just Sarah Connor. Besides the Beauty And The Beast TV show, what else has she got? She might have some people remember Children Of The Corn, but if people don't know her as Sarah Connor, they'll probably have no idea who she is. I also don't know why they didn't just cast Linda's twin sister Leslie to play Sarah. Leslie had an extremely brief appearance in T2 (as the T-1000 imitating Sarah), and I couldn't tell them apart.

There's also Kristanna Loken as the T-X (or "Terminatrix," as she's been called). While I didn't think she was as intimidating a villain as the T-1000, but still manages to look mean just through her movement and facial expressions. And finally, there's Governor Schwarzenegger. Even at 50 years old, he still has what it takes to be an action star. And despite his awful attempts at comedy (such as the holiday "classic" Jingle All The Way), his deadpan delivery provides good laughs in otherwise boring scenes. Stan Winston's effects team gets a thumbs-up for this one. Despite the over-reliance on CGI, I thought everything looked extremely believable. And I must applaud them for designing the T-1 robots. They're real robots, folks. No puppets or CGI there. I also thought Marco Beltrami's score wasn't bad. Sure, it wasn't as good as Brad Fiedel's scores from the prior movies, but it wasn't awful.

While not as good as the work of James Cameron, I must also applaud Jonathan Mostow for having the ambition to attempt a Terminator film. I thought his effort was commendable, and while nowhere near as good as either of the prior films in the trilogy, I think it's a perfectly acceptable sequel.

Final Rating: ***