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timelinks review

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)

7
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Fixed-position projector (c. AD 2029)
Robot agents arrive in our time to insure their masters' timeline(s)

 
Review by Chris Adams. 2003.07.02
The ultimate first-strike policy strikes again, as Skynet sends the T-X, a Terminatrix with combination endoskeleton/liquid metal for maximum flexibility and survival, back to kill Resistance leaders before they ever become Resistance leaders. And the Arnold T-800 model is "back" to save John Connor, now a paranoid adult drifter, and his future mate, Kate Brewster. Kate's dad is the Air Force general in charge of making Skynet operational, and thereon hangs the tale of T3.

Sarah Connor is already dead, and John has been keeping himself untracable by the New Economy. So both Terminators head for the person they can trace: future wife Kate, who still believes she's about to marry some other guy.

One badly scripted bit of the plot is that Kate smilingly reminisces over the time, years before, when she and John made out– mere hours after she learns her belovéd fiancé was killed by an evil morphing robot from the future. Next time, people, make the belovéd dead be a brother or the nice deli guy or something, NOT a love interest's betrothed. This shrug at the importance of Love happened in The Time Machine (2002) to similar revolting effect.

The T-X happily kills away, and the T-800 rushes about slowing it down, in many spectacular action scenes. Wicked car chases, helicopters smashing full throttle into a cave mouth, and robots beginning their killing spree at an unsuspecting military base. All very eye-popping, but with the knowledge that a 2003 movie is full of CGI, it makes one think of how real the spectacle was of the live-shot helicopter chase in 1991's T2, when the CGI was reserved to enhance the soulless T-1000 alone. But being aware of such falsity is perhaps part of the point...

T3

I was back, I am back, I will be back.
 

There are a few nice time travel twists and gags. This T-800 Terminator says it was sent back by Kate, so it doesn't take John's orders, although programmed to protect him. When John learns that Judgment Day is happening that very afternoon, he has to hold a gun to his own head to get the T-800 to take him to Kate's dad's base to try and stop Skynet's activation. The Arnold bot even reveals the manner of John's eventual death when Kate asks it right in front of John– the T-800 itself has already killed the elder John Connor, before being reprogrammed by an elder Kate, and sent back through time.

But for a long stretch of the movie, it seems the franchise is losing direction for its time travel; it threatens to become a mishmash of events-can-or-can't be changed. For instance, the T-X successfully offs some of Connor's future lieutenants, even as it tries to insure Skynet's birth. As is made clear, some of the people on its hit list are crucial to Skynet's existence, and killing them too soon would undoubtedly jeopardize that. As seen so often in Star Trek, an anything-goes attitude toward travelling time leads to frustration at the pointlessness of it all, in both the characters and the audience. Were the writers able to unravel this inevitable conundrum?

Shortly after Kate Brewster is introduced to the violence and mayhem of duelling Terminators, the Arnold bot tosses her into the back of a van, and demands to know where John Connor is. She pleads with it to let her go if she tells, and Arnold agrees. After she informs it, it locks her in, saying simply that it lied.

Ah, lying. Isn't that what Terminators do, all they do when they aren't killing? The false voices, the assumed faces, and now deception to insure fate plays out. An incisive and consistant revelation, and the filmmakers should all be applauded for making it the central twist in their plot. Down to the last moment, John Connor is tricked into facing his destiny. In fact, except for Kyle Reese, John's time-warped dad in the first movie, we have only the word of a bunch of Terminators about what the future holds. And even Reese could have been told to lie to Sarah Connor about the date of Judgment Day (originally August 29, 1997). After all, he memorized a speech to tell her.

There is even the grim possiblity that, since Terminators are programmed to lie constantly in pursuit of their goal, that ALL of the Terminators have been sent by Skynet. What better way to herd humans into desired events than by giving them a glimmer of hope? But the endgame of this good bot/bad bot routine has yet to play itself out, and this is why Jonathan Mostow's fine film is not quite as excellent as the James Cameron Terminators: The opposing machines in T2 were a fresh idea. In T3 they are an expectation. This is the unspoken danger for the franchise, that no matter how big another sequel's action gets, repetitious concepts become same-old same-old. In time travel storytelling, this is death.

Since the War is on, and a T4 is being considered, we'll see if the writers understand the military aspect of time travel: the time machine itself always becomes the primary target. Enough of trying to kill John Connor, or even mankind– it's time the real source of absolute power was addressed full-on.

 
 
 
 
 

 


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