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Ten years after the events of Terminator 2, John Connor now exists as a drifter - unsure of his future and living 'off the grid'. SkyNet sends a new Terminator T-X, which is even more powerful & advanced than the liquid T-1000. As ever however, another older Terminator (Arnie) is also sent back by the resistance to protect John. With Skynet assuming control of civilian computer systems around the world it's a race against time to save John Connor, and therefore humanity, while preventing nuclear annihilation.
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If I said there are probably more moments of intentional hilarity in this than many of the so-called Ďcomediesí Iíve seen over the last couple of years you might think I need to get out and see some better comedies. But no, this is T3: Rise of the Machines and it just happens to have a healthy sense of humour.
Anyone familiar with the franchise - and by anyone, I mean everyone - will remember the particular quirk of the time-travel technology where the main characters had to be sent back in time without clothes. Previously we'd been treated to the comical sight of Arnie strolling buck-naked through the night before helping himself to the clothes of some unfortunate who just happened to be his size ≠- street punks in T1 (Brian Thompson, Bill Paxton and the other one) - 'wash day tommorrow, nothing clean!', and bikers in T2. Here, he moodily strides through a strip-joint on ladies night before disrobing the main act, a male stripper. That set-up in itself provides some amusement, but the punch line when he puts on his newly acquired trademark sunglasses is a doozy.
Itís a perfect example of the film-maker's healthily subversive attitude to the po-faced genre and the realisation of a need to add a light touch to an admittedly preposterous premise. Itís not all fun and games though. As before thereís the serious threat of world annihilation at the hands of the supercomputer Skynet. Itís now over ten years since Arnie last did battle with Robert Patrickís liquid metal T-1000 and now he faces an even more challenging foe in the shape of the tasty/nasty T-X (Kristanna Loken). And as before, Arnieís mission is to protect John Conner (Stahl) and keep him alive to become the human saviour in the future war of the robots. So what follows is pretty much a re-run of what we've seen before. Yes the film could've gone in many different directions and sure, T2 didn't really need following up (T1 didn't either come to that), but never has the countdown to world destruction been such fun!
It's not all good news though, it's this lighter touch that also lends the film a throwaway quality and if you want to nit-pick there are other problems too, such as the needless reprisal of a Earl Boen's character (Dr Silberman). Here the character is played purely for laughs and seems out of place.
Generally speaking, the cast are extremely watchable. Arnieís got more charisma in his left bicep than many of todayís Ďstarsí and is great fun as he deadpan's his way through the film while mocking his character's obsolescence. In the absence of Edward Furlong, Nick Stahl makes the most personable John Conner, though in retrospect perhaps not quite believable as someone could lead a resistance movement given that he has grown up into the more believable, though thoroughly dour Christian Bale. Claire Danes however, convinces in the role of Kate Brewster, Connerís reluctant ílove-interestí dragged along for the ride. But what a ride...
Feast your eyes on the insane crane vs. fire engine chase sequence. As later films like Bourne Supremacy and Casino Royale have shown there really is absolutely NO substitute for REAL LIVE action and stunt work. We can admire the skill in which whole countries are destroyed in 2012 or marvel at the OTT scenes in Wanted or Fast and Furious, but overuse of CGI takes away feeling, depth and any real identification with whatís going on on-screen. Thatís why hand-muppet Yoda in Empire Strikes Back has way more presence and personality than the silly computer generated Yoda in the more recent Star Wars prequels. Thatís why the so-called battle sequences in Lord of the Rings and the aforementioned Star Wars are so empty and excitement free. And thatís why the old-fashioned chase in Terminator 3 (with minimal CGI) beats the over-long posturing, though admittedly very cool one, in Matrix Revolutions hands down.
Between the jokes and the wanton destruction, thereís the serious message getting through. T3 is solidly made with good sfx, it's exciting, un-pretentious and wastes no time getting from A to B. It also has a nasty streak running through it too Ė witness the disturbing scene where the T-X gives the boyfriend of Kate Brewster a wake-up call he'll never forget. There are also a couple of nice plot developments which add an interesting symmetry and irony to the proceedings.
It's been said that a film is only as good as it's ending, and if you agree then this film must be pretty good. The final scenes are bravely downbeat and resonate after viewing - even recalling the moment Taylor (Charlton Heston) discovers the fate of man in Planet of the Apes. I can't think of higher praise than that.