[Note: This review contains spoilers, especially about the film's ending!]
One word described my feelings before viewing the first Terminator film without James Cameron behind the wheel: trepidation. Not only was our director-extraordinaire gone, but so too was Linda Hamilton (whose Sarah Connor, the “mother of the future”, was by far the standout character of the first two films); Edward Furlong (somehow his many run-ins with drugs and rehab made casting agents a bit nervous!); and even the enigmatic T-1000 played by Robert “I can look deadpan and so f**king mean at the same time” Patrick was lost to us. Indeed, the only old fave back for more was Arnold “I’ll be back, unless California elects me as Governor” Schwarzenegger who, in all fairness, hadn’t made a good film in half a decade. In plot terms, there was also the small issue of Terminator 2 neatly wrapping up with the declaration that Judgement Day had been prevented! Of equal concern, the new guy to shape the Terminator franchise was Jonathan Mostow, and while his last film U-571 was okay, it was certainly no Das Boot. So, I think my worries had some foundation. However, now I’ve got all that out of the way, I’ve got to say, Terminator 3 is a bloody good action flick!
Mostow’s familiarity with the previous Terminator films shows through in almost every scene. Where James Cameron based Terminator 2 on the original, Mostow has based the third on a wonderful combination of the previous two. Indeed, the infusion of wit and humour into T3 actually tops the previous films. No one will ever be able to take the expression “Talk to the hand” seriously ever again. Nick Stahl’s twenty-something John Connor takes a little getting used to, but gets into a rhythm about 20 minutes in, and he does a fantastic job with the role. Claire Danes’ role as the John’s love interest and future wife, Kate Brewster, is fantastically handled from the first second. In their initial meeting, Kate has John Connor locked in a cage after he tries to steal medicine from her veterinary clinic, and in one battle scene he looks at her with awe and exclaims: “You remind me of my mother!” (Although, I wish they hadn’t used the surname Brewster; I kept thinking of the silly tv series Punky Brewster every time the name was used!). For Arnie, this was the movie to save his career: the role ain’t all that demanding, but this is what he does best! Straight-faced, the T-101 (who confesses tongue-in-check, “I am an obsolete model”) aides the future leader. Newcomer Kristanna Loken plays a similar role as the new uber-Terminator, the “Terminatrix,” poking a bit of fun at the recent spate of bad girl films. In action terms, you won’t be disappointed; the major chase scene involving trucks and cranes is amazingly choreographed, massively destructive, and leaves the much-hyped Matrix:Reloaded highway scene looking pathetic in its wake.
The main reason, though, that Terminator 3 appealed to me was that it is completely bleak. Even though our heroes battle valiantly, and do pretty much everything right, the film still ends where the previous two films feared to tread: with Judgement Day actually happening. The explanation that T2 caused the nuclear holocaust to be delayed rather than prevented has real resonance for contemporary Western culture. As the US-led “coalition of the willing” attack countries with no real reason (and certainly no weapons of mass destruction), and then the population of the US, UK and Australia concede that even though their leaders were lying, they’d still re-elect them, how could the future not look painfully bleak? Terminator 3, of course, leaves the way open for a spectacular fourth instalment with the actual future-war against the machines taking place. And perhaps in that war, some optimism can be found. But, for now, Terminator 3 is a well-made, explosive film that is completely dystopian and thus perfectly apt for the world we live in.