Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Movie Review
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, and Claire Danes and was directed by Jonathan Mostow. More than a decade after John Connor prevented Judgement Day, a new Terminator is sent back in time to complete the mission that had twice failed and John, played by Nick Stahl, must once again work with a protector from the future to prevent the rise of Skynet. I’m not one to hate on sequels just for their mere existence.
They can be a tricky thing and there’s always that balance between advancing the story and doing it to capitalize on the monetary success of a franchise. When these two things are equally balanced, people don’t typically have a problem with a sequel. It’s when things start to tip towards the money side that people start throwing around phrases like ìcashgrab and ìunnecessary sequel. As much as I like to see original content, I really don’t have a problem with sequels as long as they further the story in a way that tracks with the previous film. Unfortunately, with Terminator 3, that’s just not the case.
I really don’t like to use the phrase ìunnecessary sequel in my reviews cause, for the most part, I think all films have some merit. And deeming something as unnecessary feels a little reductive. But, I gotta say, Terminator 3 is about as close as it gets to an ìunnecessary sequel for me. I don’t hate it, I don’t think it’s the worst movie ever made ñ I just don’t think it contributes to the story.
The first two Terminator movies are really a package deal. They’re enjoyable separately, but together form a cohesive and complete story. I’m certainly not advocating for all movies to end with some sort of cliffhanger in the hope that they’ll make a sequel, but some movies inherently have a bit of openness to their endings. Terminator 2 was not one of those movies. So, that really starts this third movie off on a bad foot. As interesting as it is to see an older John Connor, the whole story just feels tacked on.
The whole time-travel integration thing that was so fluid and well-thought out in the first two movies, feels very clunky here. Rather than using moments or things that were hinted at in the earlier films, Terminator 3 just takes entirely new ideas and characters and slaps them onto the existing story, claiming that they were things that happened during the previous films or maybe right before them and we just didn’t know about it. I get that it was their way to craft a continuation of a completed story, but the clunky and obvious retconning just sticks out like a sore thumb and frequently pulls me out of the story. In addition to changing up the story, the style of Terminator 3 is incredibly different from its two predecessors.
Probably the biggest reason for that is the fact that this was the first Terminator movie that didn’t have James Cameron sitting in the director’s chair. The twelve year time gap between T2 and T3 certainly contributed to this change as well. This movie lacks the grit that the first two movies had. The first Terminator was definitely a darker film and could be classified as a gritty movie, but even T2 had that quality to it. Whether it was the film grain or the type of practical effects or whatever, it still had that sweaty, grimy action movie feel to it.
Terminator 3 just looks so glossy. It was shot on film, but it has that polished digital look to it. The CGI’s very prevalent, but it’s decent with the exception of an incredibly clunky-looking fight between the T-800 and the T-X. I’ll admit that I remembered this movie being worse than it actually is. I’m not saying that I like it and it’s not even close to the level of T1 and T2. Is a disappointing follow-up? For sure. An unnecessary follow-up? Yeah. An obvious set-up for more sequels? Definitely. But, it’s not the cinematic catastrophe it’s been painted as over the last decade and a half. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. The only real pro of this movie is Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator.
This is his third time as this character and his second time portraying the protector role. I would argue that the Terminator is Schwarzenegger’s ideal character and, at this point in the franchise, he had the role down. Despite being a new T-800, he expands on the character development and themes from Terminator 2. There’s still a lot of literal and situational humor, but this movie touches on the idea of terminator humanity again. On the con side, the biggest issue is that this film is unnecessary. Again, I don’t like using the term ìunnecessary sequel, but this movie really doesn’t contribute anything storywise.
The second film wrapped the story up in a satisfying way, so everything about this one just feels clumsily tacked on. Given what we know from the first two movies, large chunks of this film just don’t make sense within the construct of the Terminator franchise. The story closure provided by T2 required this movie to take a different approach, but the retconning (poorly explained by an alternate timeline theory) just wasn’t the right way to approach it.
The second con is the lack of chemistry between the characters. Everybody’s interactions just feel so stilted. John and Kate are predictably presented as an eventual romantic pairing, but there’s no palpable connection between them, which makes it hard to get on board with. Perhaps most disappointingly though, is the lack of chemistry between John and the T-800. That relationship was one of the most important aspects of T2 and it feels very awkward here. I don’t know if it was cause of the script or Nick Stahl’s performance, but John Connor just feels off. He doesn’t feel like the grown-up version of the character we got to know in the previous film and I kinda wish they had just recast Edward Furlong in the role.
I’m gonna give Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 2 out of 5 paws. If this were just its own thing, I probably would’ve given it a 2.5 as a serviceable, but quite generic 2000s sci-fi action movie. But cause it’s part of the larger franchise and really contributes nothing new to the story, I’ve gotta go a little bit lower. I would recommend Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines really only to diehard fans of the Terminator franchise. It’s not a movie that anybody needs to see if they liked the first two movies, but if you’re really into the franchise, it’ll have some things that you’ll like. Fans of glossy sci-fi action movies from the early 2000s might also enjoy it for its moments of nostalgic cheesiness. If you liked Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, I would recommend both The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
These two movies really craft the story of John Connor and the terminator world in a way that’s far superior to this film. If you like the judgement day premise of this movie, you should check out WarGames for another film about the self-induced end of the world. And if you want another slick and glossy early 2000s movie about an artificial intelligence uprising, I’d recommend I, Robot. Alright, a couple questions for you guys.
Number one: Have you seen Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What sequel do you think most egregiously negates or deviates from the ending of its predecessor? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.