Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Retrospective
By John Hussey.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day certainly raised the bar within this iconic franchise, but like with the first film it didn’t scream out for a sequel. The sequel concluded somewhat, if a little ambiguous as to whether Judgement Day was stopped, and quite frankly didn’t leave the story open to go anywhere. However, after an even longer gap, a third instalment came about in 2003 called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
I have to be honest, this was where the franchise started to lose its touch, mostly because the original mastermind James Cameron was no longer onboard to write and direct. The first two were iconic in their own rights and incorporated all of Cameron’s ideas and styles which meant any sequel afterwards without him would fall in terms of direction. The franchise would no longer have the flare that he ingested and this was what happened.
To set the record straight I don’t believe Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a bad movie, far from it, but it does lack in status compared to the first two films. In my eyes the film was bland, devoid of the unique qualities that Cameron originally devised and brought to the screen. This third instalment seemed like a desperate attempt to revitalise the franchise and rekindle the greatness of the original two films.
Another thing that made this third instalment bland was that it didn’t fully add to the franchise. There were some major events that occurred that added to the franchise’s inventive narrative but the rest of the plot fell flat through being less impressive than the previous sequel. The Terminator itself (once again reprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger) lacked the development of the previous model and came across as an out of place character, torn between the previous two models. Also the T-X, the latest antagonist within the franchise, was nothing more than an extension of the T-1000 which simply combined the best elements from the two existing Terminator machines. The only thing new was making it a woman which seemed impressive, but sadly fell due to her lack of character. However, like the T- 1000 she was fierce and constantly returning to complete its mission.
The narrative occurred a decade after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and saw a grown up John Connor facing the harsh reality of impending doom. He essentially gained the paranoia that his mother got in the second instalment, accept with less success, lacking the core aspect of strength and determination to prevent destiny. Instead he was driven to be a homeless person constantly on the run to prevent detection. Despite the last film leaving things with an apparent happy ending, referenced in this film through Judgement Day never happening on the day it should have, John still felt that his destiny would occur and dreamt about it every night like his mother did. His character was somewhat improved from his bratty self but I still find that his younger self had more depth and confronted things better, whereas this new John seemed lacking as the leading role and became somewhat bland throughout.
Two interesting developments occurred within the film through the introduction of Kate Brewster and the death of Sarah Connor. Kate added a lot of background for the Terminator through the narrative slowly revealing that it was her who sent the latest machine back in time and not John. This was because the Terminator actually killed John within the future and was now reprogrammed to protect his younger self, adding in a new dimension through the Terminator theoretically trying to undo its wrongs by making things better in another time. It was also slowly revealed that her and John had a connection in both the past and the future which all came together to bring about their destiny of being a couple whilst fighting with the Resistance. This I find added in some good development for John and also brought about a substitute for Sarah, granting a new chemistry and relationship for John to work with which worked rather successfully in my eyes. What I didn’t like about her character was the screaming within the first two acts but I found within the third act her character developed as she became one with the new world around her and accepted her destiny. She even took out a gun and destroyed a machine, with John funnily commenting on this by comparing her to his mother.
Sarah’s death was a massive leap of faith because she had been the main character since the first film and now the franchise moved to concentrate directly on her son. The tragic part came about through her dying from a disease whilst also secretly fearing that Judgement Day could still happen despite her attempts at preventing it within the previous film. The last ounce of her courage was shown through John explaining that she hung on to life long enough to see whether or not Judgement Day occurred. Also, as to be expected of her character, her coffin was filled with a weapons stash for John to use.
The dark revelation about this third instalment was that Judgement Day was imminent and that time was running out to prevent it from happening. This became the urgency of the narrative and also indicated the meaning behind the film’s secondary title ‘Rise of the Machines’. What I never fully understood was the meaning behind Judgement Day. It was explained that Miles Dyson caused Judgement Day in great detail within Terminator 2: Judgement Day and yet now it was Kate’s father who was to blame. I guess the filmmakers needed a good enough excuse as to how to get around the changed events but it always comes across as rather forced, if still seemingly making sense. Perhaps this was what was supposed to happen had Skynet not altered history in the first place but then this detracts from the franchise as the whole destiny factor became more powerful with the notion that altering time caused established events.
Either way, Judgement Day began to occur and Skynet put its plans into motion whilst the T- X attempted to aid its master in securing its established line of events. It was interesting that the T-X originally went around terminating John’s commanders due to its inability to track down John. This brought about another means of changing history by lowering John’s own means of fighting back through his own men dying, something that added a new twist. Of course the greatest notion of the film was through the tragic ending. It was revealed that Judgement Day could not in fact be averted. Fate couldn’t be broken and John had to face his ultimate destiny of being Earth’s final defence. Kate even helped in him in accepting this by realising that the Terminator knew already that history couldn’t be prevented. Its mission was never to prevent Judgement Day but to help John and Kate survive it.
I will admit though that this third instalment had some fantastic action sequences, which in many ways distracted you from the nit picks in-between. One thing I will complain about regarding the fight scenes was the imagery of the Terminator seemingly having the upper- hand, almost as if he was stronger due to the T-X being female. Considering the T-1000, another lankier model, could throw the Terminator about like a ragdoll meant that the T-X would have done the same and yet it didn’t. This was something I didn’t agree with. Despite this the T-X did cause severe damage and even at one point took control of the Terminator, forcing it to fight against its corrupted programming. This scene was fantastic. It was perhaps the highlight of the film because it demonstrated John’s relationship with his protector. John managed to make the Terminator realise what its mission was, despite the risk of death, and in doing so caused the machine to combat the T-X’s influence. It also demonstrated, like with the second instalment, that Arnold’s reprogrammed character was more than just an ordinary machine and could think for itself and be human.
I’m in the middle when it comes to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. I do enjoy watching it, but on reflection it is my least favourite of the franchise because of its bland nature. I know I’ve used that word a lot in this retrospective but I can’t think of a better word. In many ways poor Arnold carried this film on his own. His presence is what made it good because you could relate to him and his usual quirks. But, as stated above, his character was less impressive than his previous appearance due to lack of development. Having said that, his character was still more character driven than the original, which served to be nothing more than a killing machine. The narrative lacked depth in most areas whilst generating some exciting conclusions in other areas. The whole concept of the films ending is what makes it worth wild, along with the fight sequences but the rest of the film falls flat unfortunately, lacking the direction that the previous two films delivered. I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to watch this but just don’t expect it to be a masterpiece, simply walk away and look back on it for what it is.