Given that the Terminator franchise began with two heaving behemoths at the box office, expectations were extremely high for the third instalment. Following a juggernaut like Terminator 2: Judgment Day seems nigh-impossible, and sadly Terminator 3 fails to raise the bar once again. That being said, saying that a film isn’t as good as T2 is a far cry from saying that it’s a bad movie. As the first Terminator film not to be directed by James Cameron, instead being helmed by Jonathan Mostow, T3 is certainly not a terrible film, but it is considerably less proficient than its predecessor, and certain of its plot points served to greatly alienate die-hard fans, all but ruining the previous mantra of “No fate but what we make.” But this is the swansong of Arnold Schwartzeneggar, one of the greatest action stars ever to butcher the English language, so it deserves our attention.
A decade has passed since future Resistance leader John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his mother Sarah put a stop to the nuclear apocalypse instigated by the artificially-intelligent computer system Skynet, yet John remains on the move, too afraid to settle down anywhere lest he be found by another robotic assassin from the future. After a plot convenient motorcycle crash, he breaks into the veterinary clinic run by one Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) to steal medicine and bandages, coming face to face with his future wife when she shoots him with his own paintball gun and locks him in a cage. But John’s paranoia is actually well-placed, as yet another Terminator has been sent back to kill not only him and Kate, but also an elite group of his future lieutenants. This android is, in fact, a gynoid known as the T-X, an ungraded Terminator with an extensive arsenal of hidden weaponry and the ability to mimic the appearance of anyone she touches. She goes straight to work murdering at least three of the targets on her list before happening upon the clinic and nearly killing Kate. The timely appearance of Arnold’s Terminator saves the pair, as he drives into the T-X at high speed and ordering John and Kate to escape. This begins what is probably the highlight of the film, sadly coming far too early and out-classing the late climax – a lengthy chase sequence involving several emergency vehicles, a van, a collosal truck-mounted crane and a fire truck. The action, heavy on practical effects, is fantastic and stands out from alot of the more pedestrian chase sequences later on. Sadly, it also demonstrates the first use of the worst ability of the new Terminator, the ability to high-jack any piece of technology she chooses and control it remotely. This serves only for about thirty seconds of tension in the finale and various examples of brutalising the laws of physics. Arnold manages to damage the T-X for long enough to catch up with John and Kate and speed off into the desert.
Heading to a place of safety, only stopping for long enough to plunder Sarah Connor’s grave for the weapons cache she had installed, our heroes quiz Arnold on why he has returned to protect both John and Kate this time. He informs them that Judgment Day was never stopped, merely post-poned to a later date, and that it is imperative that the two survive, both because of their importance to the Resistance and that of their children. Arnold is programmed to respond only to Kate’s order since, at the time of his reprogramming in 2032, John was already dead, murdered by the very Terminator now sent back to save his life. Realising that Kate’s father is the military director of the defence software that will become Skynet, which is about to be uploaded to deal with a widespread virus affecting thousands of civilian systems. Racing to the military base, they are too late to stop Skynet going online and the entire complex ending up under attack by both the T-X and numerous prototype attack robots, although it’s never made clear whether the prototypes are under the control of Skynet or the T-X, or whether the T-X is now under the control of Skynet. Kate’s father is shot and mortally wounded, and with his dying breath tells John and Kate to go to Crystal Peak, a base in the mountains. Leaving Arnold behind to take on the T-X in hand-to-hand combat, and under the impression that they are heading to destroy the processing core of Skynet, John and Kate take a plane to the bunker. The T-X and Arnold aren’t far behind, but after being crushed by a helicopter and ripped in two, the T-X is finally destroyed when Arnold jams one of his nuclear batteries into her mouth and detonating it. Arriving at the main chamber, John and Kate are horrified to discover that this is not the base of Skynet, but rather a fallout shelter, and Kate’s father sent them here to survive, not to stop the nuclear apocalypse. Radio transmissions begin to come in, and John takes his place co-ordinating the aftermath of the attack, as we are treated to shot of atomic explosions over the entire face of the globe.
The most divisive issue for Terminator fans in this film is the idea that Judgment Day had to happen eventually, and that no-one could really change such a cataclysmic event, as this negates the entire story of T2. It has been such a prominent theme that time can be changed – it’s the entire basis for every single film up to that point – to suddenly bring up a fixed point in time is a very strange. You can’t have these things both ways, and we are never given a good reason why Judgment Day is so special. Well, actually it’s supposed to be because Skynet is a software, spread so far throughout the world wide web that it’s now impossible to stop, actually a rather good explanation. Sadly it doesn’t explain why it’s still Skynet, following exactly the same plan as the original Judgment Day; history proceeding the same way, snapping back to an established path after an attempted subversion just doesn’t sit right with the mythos that Terminator endeavoured to establish. But there are other problems with the time travel and effects on the future that go in the opposite direction. Before she encounters John Connor, the T-X manages to take out at least three of his highest-ranking officers, drastically altering the time-line of the future. John Connor may be the Chosen One (his initials aren’t J.C. by accident), but surely the loss of multiple high-ranking Resistance commanders would have a hugely detrimental effect on the war effort. Will the Resistance win as long as they have John Connor, merely with lighter or heavier casualties depending on the commanders present? If so, it’s just another example of a total betrayal of the themes of self-determination.
Taking this film without its connections to the canon of Terminator, it’s actually a decent action film, with a good deal of action and tension. It’s probably just as well that Kristanna Loken has minimal acting to do as a Terminator, since she seems to have the personality of a shoehorn, but Arnold is just as comfortable as he ever is the most perfect role he has ever had. He’s lacking the personality and flickers of humanity he gained by the end of T2, but he still plays the Terminator with the same wry humour that comes from being an emotionless android unaccustomed to the finer points of human interaction. As I said, the best scene comes about thirty minutes in, and sadly overshadows some of the later action, but no-one could plausibly argue that this is a bad film. It will infuriate the nerd in all of us with some of its divergence with the lore of its predecessors, but taken as a simple action film, you could do alot worse.