Film review: Terminator 3

25 November 2004


It was more impressive when it didn't look like a disco ball You just know this man is "edgy" Our heroine finally enters kick-arse mode

Terminator 3 was one of the biggest disappointments of the summer of 2003. It seemed that it could so easily have been much better... with a different director, different stars, and a different script, maybe.

Our hero is John Connor, now played strung-out by Nick Stahl. He's pretty whiny, but otherwise inoffensive. The charismatic leader of humanity's resistance to the machines? Well, maybe not. As for our heroine, she's clearly intended to remind us of the original Sarah Connor: a normal person suddenly sucked into extraordinary events. Unfortunately, Claire Danes isn't really up to the job; she can manage a convincing grimace, but she really doesn't portray much of a character before or after her transformation, still less give us any idea of what this change means for her. It's a shame Linda Hamilton didn't want to be in this film; I think they could have played well off each other. Arnie... well, as in End of Days, he spends a lot of his time here getting beaten up. I guess that's one way for an ageing action star to keep doing action films, and at least it's not as embarrassing as Jackie Chan's recent efforts; but it's not what we've come to expect from a Terminator.

The set pieces are reasonable, though somewhat drawn out, especially the crane chase (the first really big action sequence). I have no objection to a good pyrotechnic action scene, but even I can get fed up with crashes and explosions eventually...

My main problem with the film was that it seemed too much like a parody of T2 (and the action genre as a whole) rather than an homage or continuation of it; it was too consciously self-referential, in the way a great deal of modern film and television tends to be. (My own feeling is that it's fine to poke fun at the conventions of the genre by clever film-making; but character and plot should not be compromised for the sake of getting in digs at the material without which, after all, the film would not exist anyway.) Mostow, who previously brought us U-571 and... erm... Breakdown, is not the director Cameron was, of course; but neither is Cameron these days.

It was also very sloppily made. I don't usually notice things like changing serial numbers on aircraft, but here it was really obvious. Hint: if you want to show a plane on the ground and "the same plane" in the air, no problem; but you could (a) use the same plane, (b) paint the one on the ground to match the one in the air (since it's only seen within the confines of a set there'd be no regulatory difficulty), (c) use some of the digital compositing you're using so much of elsewhere to alter the number, (d) use a plane which didn't have the number in two-foot-high letters along the side of the fuselage... but it seems that nobody noticed or cared enough to do anything about it. The "talk to the hand" business just shows the age of the script, but it seems like a novice's mistake to put in a joke which will date so quickly. There was also a total failure to keep track of minor things like characters' ages from T2, which to me is symptomatic of the Star Trek school of script-writing - "screw the fans, they'll pay to see anything with the right name on the tin". Other signs of laziness abound - the heroine escapes from the evil terminator by hiding round a corner while breathing loudly; the evil terminator, disguised as the heroine's dead boyfriend, changes back to a form the heroine knows to be evil while still several feet away rather than (say) getting the heroine into her car and then killing her...

Nicely extended camera shots though, rather than the epileptic cut-cut-cut that we've seen so much of recently. And most of all, the ending: the last half-hour is the only reason I'd recommend this film at all. It may be an obvious setup for Terminator 4 (digital Arnie?), but it still works. (Note that many people disagree with me, and thought the ending the worst part of the film.)

Overall: wait for someone else to rent it, sleep through the first 79 minutes, and wake up for the ending.