Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): Feels Like a Made for Television Movie and Misses What Made It’s Predecessors Good

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     This was not a good film, not by any stretch of the imagination. At it’s best it is a forgettable action film that misses the entire point of what made the other 2 films good and at it’s worst it is an example of so many of the things Hollywood and the Studios can get wrong about making films. Where the other films had memorable characters and stylized ways in which scenes were cast this one has forgettable character and cinematography that looks like it came out of a low budget television movie. For an end to a trilogy (an end that wasn’t needed in the first place) this one missed the mark by a long shot.

    The film was directed by Jonathan Mostow and written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris who also did the story with Tedi Sarafian. The film was produced by Mario Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Joel B. Michaels, Hal Lieberman and Colin Wilson.

    The story involves a T-X being sent back in time to kill all the resistant leaders before they have the chance to join John Connor while John Connor is just trying to survive. When the T-X discovers him her mission changes as she hunts him and his future wife Kate Brewster. From here the story unfolds as Future John has also sent back an updated Model 101 to defend them and prepare John for Judgement Day.

The Pros: Nick Stahl – Nick Stahl does a great job as John Connor, but he is given such a horrible script that nothing can be done with it. This movie is a terrible joke that he is in the middle of and his talent is wasted here, he does a good job with what he has though.

Okay: The Action – Some of the action sequences are decent, like the fight on a moving crane as cars chase Kate and John but some are pretty bad too, especially since the action serves no purpose. We know Arnold is the Terminator and after “T2” we are supposed to root for him I guess? So none of the action serves a purpose, John and Kate also never get the chance to stand on their own, they always need to be saved from the T-X.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is just bad. It keeps trying to take the one liners from “The Terminator” and “T2” to bring back nostalgia but fails terribly. It also tries to make the new Model 101 literal and not know human nature but know it enough to create awkward jokes about mating…and recycling catch phrases. This script hurts the mind. There was no effort in creating it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is forgettable. It’s liking watching a SyFy original movie or something made on a really low budget with zero creativity. Nothing is emphasized and characters and moments are forgotten as nothing is focused on…this is an example of what not to do.

T-X – T-X is the sexualized Terminator. She appears and always chooses the partner of whomever she is hunting and it even has her licking blood sexually to recognize who she killed. What a joke. She is meant to be super-powered but she only manages to kill the Model 101 who we all knew was going to die anyway and should have never been in this film in the first place. This is the kind of villain you’d see in a terrible B Movie or an original SyFy movie…basically this villain is an insult and a joke. She feels like a character that was created in a board room where they thought that people like models who are good looking and sex sells so lets put it in a Terminator!

The 2nd Model 101 – The first Model 101 had an arc, this one is just a plot device. If John needs to hook up with Kate the Model 101 will provide the means, if John needs to toughen up the Model 101 will grow his anger…and if someone needs rescueing or the T-X needs to be killed, the Model 101 is here. There is no character and the only reason Arnold was brought back is he is such an iconic part of this Series but he can’t carry it. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese carried the first film and John Connor and Sarah Connor carried the second one. The Model 101 in “T2” was a good supporting character because he changed and was a character, this one is a plot device and a poor one at that. It is a cynical play at nostalgia.

Kate Brewster – Kate is there for John and that’s it. Her whole point is to become his wife so she isn’t given any choice. She is wholly defined by her Father who is in charge of the new Skynet and John who was her first kiss and future husband. She has no agency and is always running. She helps trap the T-X at one point and she traps John when he breaks into her clinic at the beginning and nothing else. She was a wasted character…like most of the characters in this film.

Forgettable Characters – There are a few minor characters who would later join the resistance who all get killed and there are some blank characters like Kate’s father and fiance who die just to advance the plot and get John to the area where he can lead the resistance as the world is ending. They are there and I didn’t feel their deaths at all.

Sexualizing the Terminators – The T-800 steals his clothes from a stripping gigalo but he is never sexualized the one Female Terminator is we see. From licking blood off her finger, to killing the future resistance members by luring them in…there isn’t even an emotionless robot thing going on. This Terminator doesn’t feel like a robot at all and all that is played up is the tech and sex…

Bad Comedy – The Terminator Model 101 doesn’t get sex, he had catch phrases and repeats phrases back like “I cannot each shit and die.” It was going for humor but it feels so forced and no one is in it or cares (and the writing doesn’t help) so it just comes off as fake and stilted.

Inconsistent Tone – Brutal deaths intermixed with terrible jokes and the end of the world and us wanting to feel hope at the end now that John is fulfilling his destiny and leading the resistance for humanity? There is no theme, there is no focus and there is no consistent tone. It is just bad.

James Cameron should have been the one to complete his trilogy. Rarely does trading writers and directors because the studio wishes it…lead to anything good. This film is it’s own special kind of terrible and there is nothing good to say about it beyond it having serviceable action and Nick Stahl doing the best he could with a really crappy script. This film was clearly a cynical cash grab and it shows. There is no soul in this film and it was hoping that attaching “Terminator” to the title and having Arnold make an appearance again that it would be saved…missing the point of the second one that the only reason the T-800 returning as Model 101 worked was due to him being the enemy of the first film and how it’s existence helped Sarah Connor to grow and see a new perspective, and also to show us that Terminator’s could change too. This film has none of that, there is no depth, the character arcs that are there are forgettable and predictable and the end of the world, “Judgment Day” happens and it doesn’t mean thing. This film was a waste and is not worth your time.

Final Score: 2 / 10

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): A Reflective Action Film on Destiny, The Soul and Choice

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    “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is a favorite film. All the issues I had with the “The Terminator” in it feeling a bit rushed, raw and lacking character development of character outside Reese and Sarah is corrected in this one. There are still some one-dimensional antagonists, but we get more heroes and our heroes are more complicated. No one is perfect in this film and for that reason it is able to explore powerful themes related to choice, the soul and destiny really well.

    The film was directed by James Cameron who also produced and wrote the film. It was also co-written by William Wisher.

    The story is about Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who is an institute after she is captured between the last films as she tries to escape to train her son John Connor (Edward Furlong) to lead the resistance against Skynet. A T-1000 Robert Patrick) is sent back to kill her son but Future John Connor sends back a Model 101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect him and to stop the T-1000. From here things get complicated as John and Model 101 help Sarah break out of the institute and she looks towards destroying Skynet’s creator Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) to prevent the future ruled by the Terminators from occurring.

The Pros: The Story – The story is really good. From us seeing the dark future that Model 101 and the T-1000 came from, to Sarah Connor being trapped and John Connor being alone and how all their forms of resisting their programming or authority bring them together to try and bring about a future where humanity is saved. This attempt to fight destiny and find hope is really powerful.

The Narration – Sarah Connor narrates the story and mentions the events from the first film as well as talking about the events of this film. She ends on a hopeful note too as we see the events of the film remind her what she is fighting for beyond training John for a desolate future.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography is beautiful in this, from the action scenes where the T-1000 is usually in a large vehicle or stronger vehicle facing off against Model 101, Sarah and John to Sarah’s vision of the apocalyptic future where her and a playground and the city burn. It captures the desolation and the full strength of what they are up against in the inevitable march to the future. Adam Greenberg did a fantastic job.

The Characters – Most of the characters are wonderful in this. The Connors are complex, Model 101 is complex as it becomes more human and the T-1000 is just a fantastic enemy.

John Connor – Edward Furlong is a great child actor. In this we see him as both a rebel and punk but also someone who cares about human life as he orders Model 101 not to kill people. His arc is him truly seeing the value in others and stopping the Terminator 101 and his Mom from crossing the line and losing their souls in the process as they are bent to achieve their means by any ends initially. He is the soul of the group that way and his imperfection (he is a thief, doesn’t respect his foster parents or his mom for a lot of the film) that at the core he is good.

Miles Dyson – Joe Morton is great as the scientist who invented Skynet. He is a father and and one of the few African American scientists from this era in cinema. His arc is redemption equels death as after Model 101 reveals is is a Cyborg he works with the Model, Sarah and John to destroy the future tech from the first film he was using to jump start the future and the computer where all his work is to prevent the future he would have created. He is a great guy and we see he loves both his work and his family but family takes priority once he understands what his work will create. In the end he is killed by a SWAT team but not before he gives Sarah, the Model 101 and John more time. I really liked his character and how complex he was.

Model 101/The T-800 – Arnold’s range is shown in this film as we see his Terminator learn how to care about others. This process starts when he lets John take out the chip that Skynet placed that blocks him from remembering and keeps him stupid and a weapon.  He follows this freedom by not killing and fights to the end against the T-1000 helping Sarah finally defeat it. This model learns how to joke and reminded me a lot of Data as it is one of the more human cyborgs in Cinema. In the end it sacrifices itself so that it’s parts will not be used to create Skynet. It is then it tells John it understands why humans cry. It is a touching scene and Arnold does a wonderful job in this role as the Cyborg who discovers it has a “Soul.”

The T-1000 – Robert Patrick is a wonderful threat in this as the liquid metal shape-shifting Terminator who destroys John’s Foster Parents and most of the threats it comes up against. It nearly kills John and is about to kill Sarah before it is stopped. It is a Terminator driven by some sort of emotion as we see rage or pain when it dropped into the vat of metal and that no matter how many times it is hit, it continued to fight. It took the form of a cop, which allowed for great symbolism too as it represented the authority of Skynet over humanity in the future that it came from and hoped to create.

Sarah Connor – Linda Hamilton has really grown as an actress since the last film. She was good in the last film but in this we see her dealing with the trauma she went through and how the future haunts her given her loss of Reese (who she has visions of) and of how what she knows leads to her isolation and imprisonment. This doesn’t stop her from escaping on her own and trying to prevent the future, even if it means killing another. She is really to kill Dyson until they convince him of what the future holds and he stands by them ready to stop it. We see her come to care about the Model 101 through her love for her son and at the end that in her despair she finally has hope as she was part of the reason the Model 101 learned to value human life and feel.

The Final Fight – The Final fight is really great. From the T-1000 chasing them in a helicopter and giant truck, to Model 101 and Dyson against the cops and finally the fight in the factory with the hot metal where the T-1000 has injured all of them and it takes Sarah and the Model 101 to take him out together.

Choice and Resistance – One of the main themes of this movie is the power of choice and resistance. From Model 101 choosing to protect beyond John and from it realizing the value of life and from Sarah sparing Dyson’s life and seeing that she has lost sight of the big picture too. Throughout these choices you have Skynet and through Skynet the T-1000 and even the cops upholding corrupt authority and ending life on multiple occasions. The cops always shoot to kill and Dyson dies because of it. Where none of the heroes kill and are usually always in a smaller vehicle or out numbered by their foes. From this is born the resistance and the choice to fight it.

Themes of Corrupt Authority Needing to be Fought – Corrupt authority and the need to fight it is also a theme. From the cops working for the organization that created Skynet, from Skynet sending the T-1000 back and it taking the form of a cop that kills on multiple occasions you have unchecked authority just like Skynet is in the future where human choice is taken away and all that exists is the authority.

Destiny, Can the Future be Changed? – The question remains open on weather the future was changed or not, as we never see what happened to the arm of Model 101 even though the T-800 chip and arm from the last film were destroyed as was most of the body of the Model 101. Did anything our heroes do change a thing? Did Dyson dying and destroying his work prevent someone else from eventually creating it? These are the questions that remain open and whether the future is set in stone and things are destined to happen or whether our actions truly change the future.

The Ending  – The ending is hopeful as John and Sarah are on the road again both changed by events and Sarah who had only the fight and her love of John to keep her going now has has hope since even if a Terminator can learn to value human life, that why can’t humanity? It is a great question and point and ending on the open road was a great symbol of the future and how it is unknown.

The Cons: The Psychiatrist – I never got that he truly cared about Sarah as even when she was on good behavior he still would not let her see her son. To this end he was the one-dimensional antagonist that seems to appear in every James Cameron film. Wasn’t impressed especially since Sarah Connor’s vision of the future could rightfully be seen as delusional but his lack of compassion did not help his perspective.

This film is a classic for a reason and worth multiple watches. It is an action movie that thinks and poses important questions that it tries to wrestle with while giving us complex characters who have arcs and presenting these arcs along with the powerful themes of choice, resistance and tackling the question of destiny. It is also beautifully filmed and truly one of the best films that James Cameron has created.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10