A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 480 – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – June 23rd, 2011

So we’ve gotten past the first two movies which means we’re out of the ones I knew and into the ones I never got around to bothering with. I remember when this one came out and I fully intended on seeing it because I do like Claire Danes and all. And then I didn’t. Largely because I heard the word “Terminatrix” and hit the brakes so hard I gave myself metaphorical whiplash. What a downright ridiculous term. And I had hoped, as the movie began and no one said it, that it would turn out that I was remembering something wrong and it was more a term used by people who’d seen the movie than something used in the movie. Alas, I was wrong. Oh, movie.

The really sad part here is that I can see a good deal of potential in this movie. It continues on with some of the paradox stuff from the last movie and the whole thing is a direct lead-up to the very war that’s been hanging over each movie since we first saw Arnold’s bare butt. And I’ll say it right now: I liked the ending. I liked it a lot. It’s just a damn shame that almost everything leading up to it is sloppy and pointless and poorly pieced together. Because if the rest of the movie had actually led up to the ending in a more meaningful way it could have been a far more interesting story to watch. As it was, I was tempted to pull out my DS and work on that last level of Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. I didn’t, but I was tempted and there were wide swaths of this movie that I could have played a video game through and not had my experience lessened.

The problem, I think, lies in that the end is the whole point of the movie. When the new Terminator shows up and our old pal, the T-800, shows up, we know pretty much how this movie is going to go. T-X is going to hunt down John Connor or someone important to him and T-800 is going to try and protect him. There will be explosions and car chases and people shooting big guns and fancy special effects for the robo-characters. It’s all pretty predictable and standard.

But what’s the plot here? Is it at all different from either of the others? Only by a few degrees, really. Where the second one introduced John Connor and had the twist of showing just how much knowledge of the future had changed Sarah, this one can’t play that card as a surprise. John’s been on his own for a while, living off the grid since even though they seemed to have averted the war he just can’t settle down. And I get that and I like it, but it’s not unexpected. And the movie spends relatively little time on it and he doesn’t get to show it off. This isn’t a transformation like his mother’s. He went from being a pubescent punk who could hack ATMs to being a 20-something punk who can wire explosives that never go off. I’m ever so impressed. And the same goes for pretty much everything here. New Terminator is smaller, sneakier, with more tools at her disposal than the T-800 but she’s really just a T-1000 with a built-in gun and breasts that she can inflate on command. The only real change here is the introduction of the character of Kate Brewster.

Now, Kate is played by Claire Danes, and I do like Claire Danes so I was willing to give her a chance. And the fact of the matter is that she’s not a bad character. She’s just given very little to do or work with. And this is part of the grander problem with the whole movie, which is that it’s trying very hard to set the stage for something epic that is never going to happen, while never going quite far enough in that stage setting because it’s mired in rehashing the basic premise of the previous movies. Kate is a young woman who went to junior high with John and who, in the future, is is wife and second in command. That’s pretty cool, except that in the present she barely remembers him and is engaged to another guy. And I kind of like the idea that John’s off-the-grid lifestyle threw the T-X and Skynet for a loop in the future, so they went with the Plan B of killing off his associates. The T-X tracking down an assortment of teens and taking them out without warning? That’s some unpleasant and grim stuff right there and it could have been so much better if the movie had given it more time. But she only gets to take out three people before going after Kate and those people get about two minutes of screen time, tops. So it turns into a non-event. Kate then gets grabbed by the T-800 and John and off they go on a road trip to visit Sarah Connor’s grave/armory.

This is how the whole movie feels. There’s something interesting presented, like the whole idea that the war is inevitable and that mucking around in the past has changed how the future will occur but not the larger events in it, and then it’s promptly ignored for lots of explosions and the T-X showing up to set people on fire. I like the new ideas here! I like Kate and I like seeing someone who’s never heard of all this Terminator stuff seeing it and coming to realize that it’s real. And like I said, I like the ending. I like John and Kate figuring out where they are and what that means. But it’s that ending that’s the point. It’s the war and what happens after that’s the grand and epic purpose for the movie. And set against that, no amount of T-X vs. T-800 was going to really matter. There’s no tension here, even when John is pulling a Shinji and getting cold feet about being the savior of mankind. What I wanted here was maybe the T-800 showing up to “get the band back together” as it were. Collecting the fragmented members of John’s future inner circle and insuring their survival. Or hell, they could have sent one of them back to round everyone up and made the T-800 the bad guy again. It just feels like there are a lot of cool ideas here buried under the safety and security of an action movie and that’s horribly disappointing.

June 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

June 23, 2011

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

I bought this when it first came out on DVD but never watched the whole thing. It’s not that it’s a bad movie – it’s just a pretty stupid movie. And a wholly unnecessary one. It’s full of ludicrous physics, convoluted plot machinations (necessary in order to force a sequel) and self-referential jokes based on the other two movies in the franchise.

This movie spends a lot of time feeling like a re-hash of the first two films. Once again a pair of warriors are sent back through time, one of them with the mission of killing the leaders of the future human resistance and one with the mission of defending them. John Connor in this movie is a wandering vagabond, living on the road and staying off the grid because he doesn’t really believe that Judgement Day has been averted (even though the movie takes place in 2004 and Judgement Day was supposed to happen in 1997.) Skynet doesn’t have an established location for him so it sends its new terminator (a T-X this time) to assassinate John’s lieutenants.

By amazing co-incidence one of those lieutenants is a mild mannered veterinarian who in her youth used to be in the same high school class as John, and he actually breaks into her clinic to steal medical supplies (since he’s all about staying out of hospitals and stuff) right before the T-X and T-101 show up to kill/save Kate Brewster. The movie makes some noise about how this meeting was “fated” to happen – in the same way that Judgement Day is inevitable and was only postponed when John, Sarah, Dyson and the T-101 blew up the research facility in the second movie. That’s just sloppy writing in my opinion. Part of what made the first movie so cool to me was that things weren’t fated to happen – they happened the way they did because it was a single coherent time loop – the future had already happened by the time Reese and the T-101 came back to set it into motion. John Connor is the savior of human kind because his mother raised him to be that, and she never would have raised him that way if she hadn’t been turned into a hardened warrior by her brush with the first terminator. I enjoy a self perpetuating future. I do not enjoy “fate” quite as much.

I didn’t finish writing this review last night before going to bed, meaning that I’ve had an extra twelve hours or so to ponder the movie after watching it, and the result is that I’ve found myself coming to a strange realization about this movie. It is a prequel. It is an origin story that explains how the war between man and machine came about. Like most prequels it thrives on references to the movies in the original time line and cameos. In some cases this is pretty annoying – such as when the naked T-101 goes in search of clothes after arriving in the past, or when Earl Boen reprises his role as Dr. Silberman from the first two films but mainly as comic relief and not as an actual character. In some cases it is kind of fun, such as when we see prototypes for the H.K.s of the future being developed by the human military. Ultimately, though, this movie has that big problem which is common to so many prequels, which is that is is more concerned with shoe-horning the origin story into the movie than with actually developing the characters we’re watching. (I will point here to the recent X-Men: First Class as an example of the exception that highlights the rule.) If the main reason your whole movie exists is to re-start a franchise, then it had better have something compelling to add to that franchise and not be, as this movie is, a loose collection of action scenes intended to lead up to one (admittedly kind of cool) twist at the end.

The movie had a pretty major hurdle to overcome right from the very start because Linda Hamilton had chosen not to return as Sarah Connor. Sarah was the best part of both of the first Terminator movies with her arc from unambitious waitress to female warrior and then her descent to near murder before her eventual redemption. Without Linda this movie suffers a great deal (and to add salt to the wound her character is relegated to an ignoble off-screen death.) I do appreciate the casting of Claire Danes as Kate, but although she does have a kind of similar evolution to Sarah (from veterinarian to machine-gun-toting bad-ass) the movie doesn’t give her enough motivation to really explain why. Sarah defeated a terminator and lost her true love – Kate just gets kidnapped and thrown around a lot.

I also felt absolutely no connection to Nick Stahl as John Connor. It’s not really his fault I suppose. The movie has a bad case of telling instead of showing and his character is introduced mostly through a couple voice over monologues that simply fill in what’s been up since the last movie. He spends the entire movie whining about not wanting to be the savior of the human race and not understanding why it’s his responsibility. The movie tries to answer that question to some degree, but mostly he comes across as an annoying twerp.

Then there’s the T-X. I suppose that if you’re going to follow the formula established by the first two movies you need to create a new and more dangerous terminator to do battle with, but the super powers of this one push the boundaries of credulity. I had issues with the way that the T-1000 in the second movie could supposedly copy anything it touched (such as when it copied a security guard in the asylum from having contact with the sole of his shoe.) It was an ability that didn’t make any sense, but since the whole point of that villain was to push the boundaries of modern special effects (because apparently that’s James Cameron’s thing) I was willing to overlook it. The magical ability of the T-X to convert police cars and ambulances into remote-control vehicles, however, completely threw me out of the movie. It’s not even remotely believable. I can buy a time-traveling killer robot with a meat disguise. I can even overlook a liquid metal machine that needs to touch something to morph into it. I can’t accept remote controlling a car without installing servos or anything.

So, yeah, this movie was sad and disappointing for me. It’s a big stupid action movie that feels cheaper than its predecessors (although it supposedly cost almost twice what the second movie cost.) It relies too heavily on being cute or funny and not enough on being cool. Most of the action has a very been-there-done-that feel to it, since they are re-hashes of better done action scenes in the first two movies. (Really, the graveyard escape is the same scene as the research lab escape except that it has fewer cops, no explosion and no helicopter. Why do I want to watch that?) There are a couple interesting ideas in here – such as the shocking revelation that the T-101 in this movie is the very one that killed John Connor in the future after he had already won the war – but they are buried in all this uninspiring and poorly written garbage.

June 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment