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Should I Watch..? Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines

Updated on November 6, 2019
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Teaser poster
Teaser poster | Source

What's the big deal?

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines is an action sci-fi film released in 2003 and is the third instalment in the Terminator series. Directed by Jonathon Mostow instead of series co-creator James Cameron, the film sees an adult John Conner once again targeted by a cybernetic assassin from the future where he is the leader of the human resistance against the machines. As in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he is assisted by a re-programmed Terminator cyborg who is sent back in time to protect him. The film would lead to a fourth film in 2009 - Terminator Salvation - before a reboot of the franchise with 2015's Terminator Genisys. Despite earning $433 million worldwide, the film received a mixed reaction from critics and is generally considered one of the lesser entries in the series so far.


2 stars for Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines

What's it about?

After the death of his mother Sarah from leukemia, John Conner has been living a nomadic lifestyle off-the-grid around Los Angeles. Despite Judgment Day not occurring on 29th August, 1997 after the events of the previous film, John cannot shake the feeling that a war is coming between man and machines. As if to prove him right, a highly-evolved Terminator known as the T-X is sent back in time to eliminate John's future supporters within the Human Resistance as they are unaware of John's present location. The T-X shares its liquid-metal abilities with the T-1000 but is capable of reprogramming other machines and also has build-in weaponry - it also takes the form of a young woman. As before, the Human Resistance attempt to counter this by sending back the traditional T-850 model we know and love.

After killing several targets, the T-X locates John at an animal hospital where Kate Brewster (John's future wife and one of the T-X's targets) works. Escaping after a timely intervention from the T-850, Kate and John are plunged into a nightmarish pursuit across the US as the apparently inevitable countdown to Skynet's nuclear holocaust looms ever closer. It appears as though the key to preventing Armageddon lies with Kate's father Lieutenant General Robert Brewster whose work with artificial intelligence could prove crucial in preventing the war...


Main Cast

Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Terminator T-850
Nick Stahl
John Conner
Claine Danes
Kate Brewster
Kristanna Loken
David Andrews
Lt. Gen. Robert Brewster

Technical Info

Jonathon Mostow
John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris & Tedi Sarafian *
Running Time
109 minutes
Release Date (UK)
1st August, 2003
Action, Sci-Fi
* story by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris, based on characters created by James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd
Loken's T-X character is basically a jumped-up version of the classic T-1000 from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
Loken's T-X character is basically a jumped-up version of the classic T-1000 from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" | Source

What's to like?

It's nice to finally see a worthy opponent to Arnie's leather-clad, monosyllabic bodyguard. Loken might not be the greatest actress but her character has enough toys and tricks to make her interesting at least. Surprisingly, she also holds her own in the action scenes even if there is the ever-present stench of CG. Schwarzenegger can probably play the role in his sleep but even his character brings something different to the table - instead of being humanised by John with early-Nineties catchphrases and endless high-fives, this machine behaves with the cold and calculating logic you'd expect. It also brings an unexpected level of humour to the film such as the inappropriate sunglasses he first acquires.

However, most viewers will want to see this for the action and the film doesn't disappoint. It's almost completely non-stop action from when the T-X walks into the vets, only pausing long enough to allow plot exposition and cram in a slightly creepy cameo from Earl Boen as Dr Silverman, Sarah Conner's unfortunate therapist. Car chases seem to be the order of the day with a variety of suitable vehicles from a hearse to a mobile crane to a RV. Weirdly, this doesn't continue when they get their hands on a plane...

Fun Facts

  • Schwarzenegger was always resistant to returning to the series unless original director James Cameron was on board. Cameron figured that the character was as much Arnold's as it was his so he advised his friend to "just do it and ask for a s***-load of cash". His fee was just over $29 million, a then-record.
  • This film was Schwarzenegger's final lead role before he was elected Governor of California in 2003. He wouldn't return to a lead role until The Last Stand in 2013, ten years later.
  • The film's original tag-line - "The War Begins 2003" - was changed at the last minute due to the war in Iraq and the political climate at the time. It was removed from all promotional materials and replaced with the more straight-forward "Coming Soon".

What's not to like?

For all the booms and bangs of carefully-placed pyrotechnic charges, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines completely lacks any of the excitement that its two predecessors brought to the party. There's no surprise when Arnie picks himself up after being blasted through several walls or when Loken emerges unscathed once a truck has been driven into her. There's also far too much which has been needlessly swamped in CG - take the fight between the two cyborgs in a bathroom with water spraying everywhere as sinks and toilets get destroyed. Surely one of the actors should have been wet but no - both are as dry as a camel's codpiece. What was wrong with filming it with stunt-work instead of taking the cheap, easy option?

There are other issues too besides the film's overly artificial look. Stahl and Danes are accomplished actors who give their respective parts everything but the film's screenplay is dreadful, saddled with clumsy dialogue and the same plot-holes that plague every Terminator movie. Knowing how Kate and John end up in the future, the line John says when Kate finally starts fighting back - "You remind me of my mother." - feels more than a little wrong. But my biggest gripe is that the film-makers learnt nothing from Terminator 2, arguably the greatest sci-fi shooter the world has ever seen. Instead of implying that the future is not yet written, the film decides that the future is set in stone and nothing makes any difference at all and this leads to one of the worst endings to a film I can remember seeing in a long time. In a film full of disappointments, it's fitting that it saves the biggest for last.

Danes is also a poor substitute for Linda Hamilton's Sarah Conner
Danes is also a poor substitute for Linda Hamilton's Sarah Conner | Source

Should I watch it?

Only Terminator-obsessives will deem this flick a necessary watch. Poorly made and ill thought-out, the movie concentrates on being a derivative action shooter with everyone's favourite cyborg in the middle. But it takes more than a leather jacket and shades to make a Terminator picture and this simply doesn't do nearly enough. It adds nothing to the earlier movies and is not necessary to watch the later ones. Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines is like an errant child, throwing a hissy fit for never quite living up to the standards of its game-changing parents.

Great For: plot-hole and gaffe spotters, anyone bored of watching the first two films, undemanding action fans

Not So Great For: fans of the series, optimists, anyone working on artificial intelligence

What else should I watch?

Of course, none of these films would have been made if The Terminator was just your usual throwaway piece of mindless action from the mid-Eighties. But James Cameron made it far more entertaining and scary than it had any right to be, fuelled by Schwarzenegger's pitch-perfect performance and the genius of the concept. But to follow it up seven years later with Terminator 2: Judgment Day proved lightning does strike twice. Combining cutting-edge effects with a terrifying vision of the future, blistering levels of action and stunt-work and fantastic performances from its cast, it remains the best in the series so far.

After the disappointment of the third, my enthusiasm for Terminator Salvation was somewhat dampened despite the heavyweight presence of Christian Bale as the grizzled John Conner we first met in 1984. Sure enough, it too proved to be little more than a confusing mess of CG and dodgy screenplay so it's no surprise that the series was rebooted in 2015 with the oddly named Terminator Genisys. Whether Arnie will be back after this remains to be seen but I imagine that as long as punters are continuing to pay up, the former Governor of California will be decked in black leather for some time yet

© 2015 Benjamin Cox

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