If there's one thing certain to instill loyalty in a fanbase, it's when a filmmaker, or series of filmmakers, pay attention to details great and small, and keep each sequel, while unique in its own right, contiguous. If continuity is intact, and the core elements are not altered, but instead built on in logical, well-thought-out fashion, fans will continue to be pleased with a franchise and will spend their money and spread the word. I have, I am, I will.
T3: Rise of the Machines picks up several years after the events of T2. John Connor is now a young man, aware that he participated in an event which made him the savior of mankind in a different fashion than the future history had written prior to his actions. He is also aware that he should feel safe, but he does not. Then when another Terminator appears, an exact duplicate of the foster-father he knew in his childhood, he realizes that his worst fears are true, the future has not been saved, and that Judgement Day hasn't been eradicated, merely postponed. His role as savior has not yet come to its end.
This film ranks with its predecessors, and does them proud by its solemnity, its ingenuity, and its explosive progeny. In this film, it is the humans, not the machines, who become the most critical to the success or failure of their mission. The machines are excellent foils, but in the end it has passed beyond a Terminator-vs-Terminator conflict, and become a very human struggle for survival.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once again reprises his role as the woodenly-sincere Terminator. For being the age that he is, Arnold looks just as hard, toned and lethal as in the previous two films. This time, however, the Terminator is even less able to emulate humanity than in T2, owing to him being an older, obsolete model instead of the more powerful version of the previous film. His nemesis, played by Kristanna Loken, is known as the TX, a terminator designed not only to assassinate humans, but to assassinate other Terminators as well. Loken does a wonderful job of portraying an machinic intelligence in the guise of a woman, with subtle facial expressions worthy of Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith, or Boris Karloff's Frankenstein.
As the human foils, John Connor (Nick Stahl), does a very good job of picking up where Edward Furlong left off. Through him, John Connor unfolds before your eyes as a conflicted, haunted individual who doesn't want to be anyone's savior, but merely wants to be. His partner, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), is honestly played and portrayed, the shock and horror coming as easily to her face as the few smiles allowed by the events of the film.
Technically, this movie looks wonderful. The one glaringly CGI'd scene is forgivable, given the filmmaker's decision to rely on animatronics for the bulk of their special effects. It was a wonderful surprise to see the legion of skinless T-800s marching along the ground in one of the future war scenes, looking as clunky and mechanical as they have in both of the other films. For a filmmaker to willingly NOT use CGI at this point is a sign of faith to the legacy, and fans will be as pleased as this reviewer is.
Another surprise was a cameo by Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman, Sarah Connor's old psychiatrist. He's now working for one of the many police departments we see in the film. His short scene with Danes was truly delightful, eliciting much laughter from the crowd as people remembered who he was, and what he went through.
Don Burgess' cinematography in this film was superbly done. Although mostly using traditional camera techniques, his style lent a wonderful crispness and tension to the proceedings. The rest of the tension must be attributed to Marco Beltrami, whose score revved you up, calmed you down, and threw you around corner after corner, keeping the underlying "THUD-THUD, THUD-THUD" that is a staple of Terminator music. Beltrami, who has also scored such diverse films as Scream, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Resident Evil, pays as much tribute to the works of the past Terminator films as do T3 writers John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian.
The direction for this film was, I felt, both a work of independent art and an homage to the way James Cameron crafted the first two installments. Jonathan Mostow made this film work on several levels, and, although following a traditional story arc, many of the story turns felt unexpected, and the penultimate clash between the Terminator and the TX was a thing of violent beauty. Ultimately, the underlying message of the film, that of films dating back to the original Frankenstein, about the dangers of creating monsters we cannot control - comes through so loud and clear that, by the end of the film, you can only gape, silently, and the "resolution" of this chapter of the story.
Overall, I give this film an A. I agree with Terry Lawson, film critic for the Detroit Free Press, when he said T3: Rise of the Machines was "a worthy continuation to two of the best sci-fi action films of the past 20 years." Let us hope that there is, in fact, a T4 on the horizon. This story must have its ending.