Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

With a lengthy stint of dilute stinkers to his name, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was Arnold Schwarzenegger's last starring role before he embarked upon a political career that saw him elected as the 38th Governor of California. As such, T3 can be read as both a payday sequel to stuff Schwarzenegger's coffers, and a public relations push for the star's impending aspirations. Certainly, this terminator resembles little more than a flagging, toothless repurposing of Schwarzenegger's Terminator 2: Judgment Day performance.

Although in similar shape to his mid-forties, T2 self, Schwarzenegger sports a deep red tan that clashes with his leather-daddy outfit and any pretence that he's actually from a terrible future. Director Jonathan Mostow also fails to give the star any killer establishing shots that aren't immediately voided by ugly, after-the-fact tinkering. It's a kick to see Schwarzenegger juggling a coffin full of rocket launchers like a futureshock Django, but the moment is mangled by Mostow's need to paste on post-process slow motion.

The film rolls on and on, never finding any way to make Schwarzenegger look iconic. Instead he's a bumbling old man, hair permanently fixed in a state of greased shock, snowboarder sunglasses stapled to his face. He doesn't look cool, he looks absurd. Factor in a reprogramming shorthand that replicates the near-human state of T2's father figure, a suffocating rash of Schwarzenegger career quotes, and a long streak of bawdy, contemptuous humour at the killing machine's expense - "Talk to the hand!" - and you have a performance that wades into full-on parody.

Elsewhere, Edward Furlong's vandal John Connor has mutated into a trembling loser played by Nick Stahl. Stahl's Connor is a messianic bum, taken to crashing motorcycles and day-labouring after T2's theatrical ending robbed him of his ambition. Stahl burns screentime furrowing his brow and looking confused. There's zero sense he's capable of leading anything. Indeed as soon as the Terminator shows up he instantly abdicates any sense of command. Much more convincing as an impending Techno-Caesar is Claire Danes's Kate Brewster, a revision role perhaps originally written to be Sarah Connor.

Although by no means as capable as Linda Hamilton, Brewster does occasionally ask questions and take the initiative, something the dumbfounded Connor never quite manages. The suggestion here seems to be that Connor is the cuckolded sap pushed front-and-centre by his Brewster wife to be the male poster image for her own military ambitions. Cameron's films posited Connor as a scarred and cold √úbermensch, forged by an abusive upbringing to be the shitkicker Christ that topples the machines. T3's sole shot of Future Connor is a scruffy old Stahl limply leading a victory chant whilst wearing oversized fatigues and a worried expression. Fuck that guy.

The weak linking continues with Kristanna Loken's irritable TX, a female shaped terminator programmed with the need to writhe in ecstasy whenever she tastes her target's blood. An early emphasis on the TX being aware of the uses a sexualised identity can afford her does raise the intermittently interesting idea that she might try and seduce her quarry. In the end though, all this cat housing amounts to nothing. Incredibly, the idea of a mechanised honeytrap was better explored in Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, at least there Bay was able to conjure a terrifying sense of destructive, sexual otherness. In T3 any such posturing is ultimately revealed to be cynical titillation.

Unfortunately the TX wasn't conceived to be interesting, she exists solely to turn up late and harass our heroes forward. There's an overwhelming sense that very little imagination is being flexed on her behalf. Her basic physiology is founded on a solid metal core, so immediately she's less interesting / invincible than the T-1000. Cameron's Terminator films also afforded their villains scenes of detective work and incidental murder. Threat was close and constantly stressed. A few brief assassinations aside, T3 only manages to burp up a sequence were TX idly sets some trees on fire after getting her ineffectual plasma weapon junked. She's vapour. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines simply doesn't give a shit. It knows you'll watch it out of some dimwitted allegiance to past glories. Why should it even try? It's a sequel designed entirely to be just another instalment in an unending multi-media franchise.

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