Thursday, March 18, 2010

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Public service announcement: I was at Waterstone’s for Joe Hill’s talk/signing session for his new novel ‘Horns’ this evening (the dude is cool, btw). Consequently, I only got finished watching ‘Terminator 3’ half an hour ago. What follows is hastily written and entirely the product of first impressions.

Notwithstanding the obvious aesthetic consideration of whether you’d prefer a cyborg sent from the future with the express purpose of killing you to appear naked in the form of a pectoral-ridden middle-aged Austrian gentleman or a lissom and well-toned Scandinavian lady, ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ doesn’t seem (on paper at least) to offer all that much.

A journeyman director (Jonathan Mostow), an uncharismatic leading man (Nick Stahl), the non-involvement of James Cameron, and the complete absence of Linda Hamilton in her signature role. Throw in seven years of everyone slating it since its theatrical release and I settled down to watch ‘Rise of the Machines’ with no expectations. Whatsoever.

I was quite surprised.

It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, either. Not a patch on the original, and without the broad scope of the sequel. But it wasn’t bad. And it has a couple of advantages on the sequel: it’s shorter and unpretentious, and Arnie’s T-101 (while still ostensibly the protector) is a lot more brutally pragmatic than his ‘Judgement Day’ incarnation (he doesn’t give a crap about bonding with the now adult John Connor in this one). Plus, it has a fuck-off great chase sequence involving sexy new Terminator the T-X (Kristanna Loken) commandeering a truck crane, its jib taking out entire swathes of buildings, as the T-101 engages her in combat.

It also has an intriguing set-up: Judgement Day has been averted and the listless John Connor (Stahl) holds down a succession of menial jobs as he drifts from town to town, living anonymously and off the grid. The T-X shows up and starts targeting random individuals. It turns out these are Connor’s future “lieutenants”, those who will form his first wave of recruits when he leads the rebellion against the machines. But even Connor himself believes that there is no longer a threat.

Mostow’s film, from a script by John D. Bracanto, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian (writers new to the franchise), posits a reasonably convincing alternative to the development of Skynet and its disastrous achievement of self-awareness. The key is Connor’s high school sweetheart Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), with whom he is thrown together when the T-X tries to assassinate her.

Unfortunately, the film also does a lot of things wrong. The T-101’s arrival replays the biker bar brawl of part two but substitutes a bunch of rowdy women on a hen night and a gay stripper. The result is almost parody, but the humour borders on homophobic. Likewise, Loken is iconic as the T-X but the big finale between her and the T-101 plays out as ridiculously OTT, the two cyborgs demolishing a restroom as they twat each other with sinks and toilet bowls. The production design of the military facility Kate’s top brass father commands is bland in comparison to the Cyberdyne offices in part two, and the design of the machines themselves (which go renegade in the finale) is uninspired and realised with fairly shoddy effects work. That aforementioned fuck-off great chase scene? It happens at around the 30-minute mark; the movie shoots its wad less than a third of the way in.

Stahl’s performance is just bland. There’s nothing to suggest that this guy has it in him to lead the fight against the machines. Claire Danes, often a luminous and highly likeable actress (‘Stage Beauty’, ‘Stardust’), is saddled with a nothing role which requires her to do little more than look bemused for long periods and intermittently screech like a harpy. A pointless scene with franchise stalwart Dr Silberman (Earl Boen) serves to remind the viewer how sorely missed Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are.

I’m still not sure what to make of the graveyard scene, except to wonder if the first draft of the screenplay had the working title ‘Terminator 3: Django Strikes Again’.

What ‘Rise of the Machines’ does have going for it can be counted on three fingers: (i) Kristanna Loken; (ii) a race-against-time ending that resolves in doom-laden quietus; and (iii) a running time, marginally shorter than even the original instalment, that doesn’t outstay its welcome.


Bryce Wilson said...

Glad to hear that I might not have been completely crazy to give T3 a provisional pass.

To me the movies biggest flaw is the dropping of The Conner lieutenants subplot. Its an intriguing idea. It looks like the machines did do some real damage but the implications of their deaths, and the question of what (If any) affect it did have on the future go unanswered. And the movie seems to just forget about it once Conner and Danes meet up.

It screams plot incorporated from early unused draft.

Neil Fulwood said...

Agreed. T3 works for me - just! - on the basis of the intriguing ideas it tantalises the viewer with (the opening scenes of John Connor, Judgement Day averted, as a nobody working on a building site and mournfully necking a bottle of beer are hugely evocative), even though it loses points for not fully delivering on them. The lieutenants subplot could have have been developed so effectively, particularly - as you say - if the script had engaged with the cost to the future rebellion of each successfully terminated individual.

It's a damn shame the Stahl/Danes thing takes precedence, because there's sod all chemistry between them and its the least interesting element the script touches on.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Yeah, Nick Stahl...blah, sucked ass. He should have never been chosen to play John Connor.

That chase sequence is awesome. Love the abundance of destruction!

Also, I loved the ending....when Cyberdine system and all that goes online...freaking sweet, we actually get to see the end of humanity begin!

My only complaint with this is that the ending should have been more epic, we should have seen computers taking over across the world in a slightly more epic form...but whatever, I enjoyed the fact that we went down with John those underground facilities. Pretty cool.

He talks like he is in command of the world at that moment, cause he is in the presidential bunker/chamber thing...I liked that.

Not as awesome as the previous films, but not a bad film either.