Sequels as inevitable entities for pushing forth with well-remembered characters are not a bad idea on paper. The opportunity for an audience to connect with and explore new angles of old characters would be an interesting chance for those with genuine promise. John Connor and The Terminator have had their ups and downs in recent years, but Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines still alludes the two categories Terminator films usually fall to. Either engrossingly brilliant bits of nostalgic entertainment or horrific cash-grabs that shove the heroics of Arnold Schwarzenegger into cut and paste packages, sometimes without his screen presence. Jonathan Mostow does well to mount both issues and provide a shaky offering that avoids all the major pitfalls the series would soon see.
Enticingly over the top at times, the callbacks to the original two features are an unnecessary inevitability. “Do you want to live?” rather than “Come with me if you want to live,” the iconic scenes dumbed down for cheap comedy knocks that will elicit nostalgia for the old films but give the new characters a sense of direction. No longer are they placeholders but real, breathing people. Ironically the best characters are those that are meant to be robotic. Schwarzenegger has that wry humour about him as he did in the first two films, but it is dumbed down a tad more than it should be. He is strong in action scenes alongside Kristanna Loken’s T-X, a surprisingly good and simple character that would fail to be replicated in Terminator: Dark Fate.
What they do replicate is a strong sense of fun. The plot may suffer for it and the CGI may look dated, but at least Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is simple enough to follow as an independent project and fun enough to engage with. Ignore the many strings attached and the botched references to previous projects and the Schwarzenegger-led robot road trip is rather fun. Mostow plays fast and loose with what is and is not believable. He has range considering one character has a flamethrower built into their ever-morphing arm, but the back and forth between Connor and the new, memory wiped The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is a strain.
By no means bad, but no great stretch or leap for the franchise. It all gets a bit sleek towards the end, a little too Robocop with its antagonists and that sci-fi silver many science-fiction films of the time would rely on is present. It hurts Mostow’s feature more than it should. He fails to present Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines with a new identity. He proves, through the setting and mood, that it is their fault more than his own. That The Terminator was more than ready for a shot at the modern age but incapable of an adaptation that skyrockets Governor Schwarzenegger back to the action-packed intensity he was so well known for. The Terminator has died more times than most movie characters, and has come back weaker and weaker every time, but at least Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a breezy and braindead action flick. It knows its place, and its place is entertaining.