Scott Tibbs
Hoosier Review
July 14, 2003

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Review of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines debuted on July 2, ending a 12 year break in Terminator movies. Arnold Swartzenegger returns as the T-800, doing battle with the far superior T-X, played by Kristanna Loken. The T-X is sent back in time to murder John Connor, future leader of the human resistance against Skynet and the evil computer network that destroyed much of the world in a nuclear war. However the film does have problems with holes in its plot.

The first immediate problem with T3 is the coincidence of having a protector sent back at the same time a Terminator is sent to kill Connor. While it may be plausible that the rebels learned of the plot to kill Sarah Connor before John Connor was born so they could send Kyle Reese into the past in The Terminator, it is less plausible that they would manage to learn of Skynet's plot a second time in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Since it happens again in T3, the moviemakers need to explain how the human rebels have done it again. Either the humans are really good spies or Skynet is really clumsy.

A second problem is the age of John Connor in the T2. T1 takes place in 1984, where Sarah Connor conceives her son John. T2 takes place in 1991, seven years later, and John is visibly older than seven years old. T3 confirms he was 13 years old when the T-1000 tries to kill him. How is it possible that a thirteen-year-old was born only seven years earlier? The method by which Sarah conceives John (she was impregnated by John's follower Kyle Reese) is not a major problem, as it is believable that she would become pregnant around the same time anyway by a different father had the timeline not been interfered with.

Some have said that the return to a solid skeleton for the T-X was a plot hole as well. I disagree. The T-1000 was made of liquid metal, which enabled it to be much more resistant to injury than a Terminator with a metal skeleton. (At one point in T2, the T-1000 is frozen and shattered into hundreds of pieces, but morphs back together once it warms up.) The T-1000 is destroyed for good only when it is melted in a pool of molten steel.

Significant physical injury to T-X's solid skeleton will destroy or cripple it. Why, some ask, did Skynet go back to a solid skeleton for the newest Terminator design rather than the more resiliant T-1000? The T-X had capabilities that a liquid Terminator would not have, such as the ability to control other machines (as it does in an impressive chase scene) and built-in weapons. (One quibble with this ability: Instead of sending several emergency vehicles after John Connor, why doesn't the T-X simply order the van Connor is escaping in to stop?) Thus, the T-X had significantly increased offensive capabilities while still retaining some of the healing capabilities of the T-1000 as well as the ability to disguise itself. The reasoning for this could have been explained in the movie, or left for fans to figure out.

One problem with futuristic movies is that it is difficult to predict changes in technology. The Internet did not exist in 1984, and was only beginning to take form in 1991, when T2 was released. Nobody expected the Internet to be as pervasive as it is today when T2 was released. T3 addresses this quandary very well, weaving the Internet into Skynet's development in a creative way.

Furthermore, the message of T3 is that the post-apocalyptic future is inevitable, and that the events of T2 simply delayed it. This goes against the message sent by T2, which was that the end of the world was averted. Rather than treat the computer-instigated nuclear war as an inescapable fate, the writers of T3 could have explained why it was unavoidable. Perhaps in the context of the story it is inevitable that a computer will become self-aware because of the continued advances in technology, and thus a conflict between a "living" computer and humans cannot be prevented.

Once the viewer gets past the plot holes, T3 is an enjoyable movie. The portrayal of John Connor as a coward living "off the grid" (no phone number or credit cards, not even an address) and running from what he fears to be his destiny was an interesting contrast to the great rebel leader that was predicted in the first two films. T3 again emphasizes a strong woman taking a leadership role against Skynet forces. After initially reluctant to join Connor and the T-800, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) reminds viewers of Sarah Connor in T2. (Connor says this in a humorous moment late in the film). The notion that Brewster and Connor were fated to meet and lead the revolution together adds a nice touch.

The T-X shines as an intimidating figure, one even then powerful T-800 cannot hope to defeat. The T-800 simply wants to keep Brewster and Connor alive until after Judgment Day, in which the T-X will presumably perish, and the humans can begin their rebellion. Brewster and Connor, meanwhile, are determined to stop "Judgment Day" from happening in the first place and order the T-800 to help them. The appearances of early "terminators" is a nice touch.

Some critics fault T3 for emphasizing too much action and not enough plot. This both is and is not accurate. T3 moves the plot along nicely, but it isn't much different from the story that has already been told. Because of this, he action scenes did seem to overwhelm the story. There was too much silly humor for a Terminator movie, from the T-X learning to enlarge its breasts to the T-800's determination to find sunglasses. (The breast enlargement could have led to an interesting story had the T-X used her physical attractiveness to lure victims into a false sense of security instead of just blowing everything up. Unfortunately, this potential was not used and leaves the viewer hanging.) Such bits do not add to the appeal of a movie about the near-annihilation of humanity.

Spoiler warning! Highlight the following text to read it. While the success of this film and the shock ending makes a Terminator 4 likely, I am not sure it would be worthwhile. Basically, Skynet cannot be destroyed because it becomes software replicating itself on the Internet. There is no "central core" to destroy because Skynet exists on every home and office PC in the country. The final scene of the movie sees Skynet setting off the nuclear war known as "Judgment Day", creating the dark world predicted in the first movie. Terminator 4 would need to be a war of humans vs. machines, with eventual human triumph. Don't we already have that in The Matrix and many other movies? Such a "war" movie would be too much of a radical departure from the first three Terminator movies, and T3 wraps up the trilogy nicely.

In my opinion, the first Terminator is still the best, despite the special effects and big budgets of T2 and T3. But T3 lives up to the expectations created by the first two movies, and is a good choice for an action fan. If you don't watch it in the theatre, it is worth a rental when it is released on DVD. Three stars out of four.