The near future. John Connor, eventual saviour of the human race from their near extinction by Skynet, is living a lonely life on the fringes of society. All this changes when he meets Kate Brewster, an encounter that coincides with the arrival of a robotic assassin on a mission to eliminate members of the human resistance movement. Once again a cyborg protector has been dispatched to the present but can the strategy of Skynet be thwarted a third time?
“The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.” The words of Sarah Connor after defeating Skynet and their time travelling mechanical menace in probably the best blockbuster of the 90s, Terminator 2. Hope is not on the agenda for her adult son as the familiar battle between man and machine continues, this time under the direction of Jonathan Mostow. James Cameron, the driving force behind The Terminator films felt he had completed the story with his sequel and watching Rise Of The Machines' plot unfold its hard not to agree with him.
Considering that prequels are all the rage it seems strange that Terminator 3 didn’t go down that route, indeed many fans have wanted to see a full blown future war with a finale that would have brought events full circle to the 1984 original. But those involved in this third chapter appear content to stick to the ‘if it ain't broke don’t fix it’ philosophy. So cinemagoers get another advanced killer Terminator going toe to toe with Arnie’s outdated model. In fact its pretty much just one long extended chase sequence with little time for clever plotting or character development. Not helped by the fact that Nick Stahl makes for an unconvincing future saviour and Claire Danes tries but fails to fill the shoes of Linda Hamilton, her character now deceased.
Its not all bad news though as Terminator 3 excels in the action stakes. When Arnie isn’t making deadpan wisecracks he’s destroying almost everything on screen in order to defeat the evil T-X, a coolly determined Kristanna Loken. She may not be as innovative an upgrade as the T-1000 but has a few tricks up her sleeve such as the ability to control machines and a destructive integrated arsenal. The set pieces are real crowd-pleasers, full of bone crunching slugfests between the rival robots and a healthy sense of spectacle. The movie's highlight, a breathtaking car chase involving half a dozen vehicles including a crane-mounted truck, is arguably the equal of what has been delivered in the previous films.
One can only imagine what James Cameron would have created had he decided to continue the series, and seen in comparison to his movies Terminator 3 does feel slightly superfluous, especially with its plot that undermines the “No fate but what we make” mantra of T2. But Mostow’s film is far from a disaster and taken as a summer blockbuster it’s an enjoyably lean and well-executed ride, stripping the action movie down to its core elements with some explosive set pieces and ending on an affectingly pessimistic note. It leaves the door open for further instalments but whether they will, or indeed should be made now that Arnie is focusing on his political career, is another matter.