Was It Really That Bad? Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3-1

So someone thought it would be a good idea to make another Terminator movie with a thousand year old Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Mother of Dragons in it and give it one of the worst subtitles in the history of subtitles: Genysis. Despite the fact that James Cameron actually liked this one, I still don’t know what these people are thinking, I don’t know why people can’t just go “ya know what, Terminator 2 was kinda perfect, maybe we shouldn’t fuck with it.” but clearly the hope of making even more money will always triumph over creative integrity.

Speaking of integrity, now is the perfect time to milk the new movie’s release for hits on a new article! So I’ve gone back and watched the 2004 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines staring an only one hundred year old Arnie. Now to be fair, this movie made a pretty sizable amount of money, taking in nearly $500 million at the world wide box office. Critics didn’t HATE it, but the fans didn’t care for it so much and the film (and Arnie’s Governership) is widely regarded as one of the reasons that a fourth movie took another five years to make. A long time by modern Hollywood’s standards.

So, was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines really that bad? Well… yeah, kinda but also not really?

Terminator 3-2

I’m going to assume that you’ve at least seen Terminator 2 but hope you’ve seen The Terminator. Those movies aren’t funny like, at all. They’re not supposed to be funny and James Cameron used comic relief very sparingly, as you are supposed to feel tension building during the course of the films and lots of comic relief would have broken all that up. They are meant to be bleak films, but cause the subject matter is bleak. The Terminator franchise is where grimdark works, and is totally necessary.

So why in the god damn hell is a movie where Judgement Day is, literally, HOURS away keep trying to be so fucking cute and funny?! Take the last fight between the Terminatrix and the Terminator: The fight takes place in the men’s room of a highly classified military facility (that they have no problem breaking into, by the way) and it plays more like a Saturday morning cartoon than the life or death struggle for humanity. The world is literally an hour away from NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST and the filmmakers are making crotch jokes and, literally, hitting characters with a sink. I mean, look at this shit!

Executive: "what if the Terminator was an Elton John fan?"

Executive: “what if the Terminator was an Elton John fan?”

And this scene takes place right after the Terminator beats up a male stripper at a ladies night. I simply don’t know why they are attempting to undercut the tension in this movie. The first Terminator movie was essentially a sci-fi slasher film. Put an inside out William Shatner mask on the Terminator, and we have a new Halloween movie. T2 managed to work in an intense family drama and a fight to keep the apocalypse from happening. It made you care about a machine. T3 isn’t interested in giving you any of that, it wants to make you laugh while trying, weakly, to scare you. Even the color pallet is brighter! Speaking of the color pallet!

This movie is just… boring.

Watching movies for these articles usually feel like very long events, but T3 felt like the longest movie I’ve had to watch. It comes in just under two hours but it felt like five and I had to take several breaks just to get through it. It’s not just pacing issues, of which there are many, but director Jonathan Mostow and Cinematographer Don Burgess give us the bare minimum of what’s required for a movie on this scale. There’s not style, no substance, no emotion to anything.

The action sequences are mostly good. Well, no, there is one great action scene, and that’s the crane chase near the beginning of the movie. Everything else is just ok, except for the aforementioned bathroom cartoon fight. This movie has all the markings of a film crew that was more interested in the pay check than actually making an interesting and thought provoking film.

To be fair, they had a pretty tough act to follow. T2 is widely considered to be one of the best action/sci-fi movies ever made, and Mostow is no James Cameron. Mostow doesn’t really have many credits to his name, with the mediocre Bruce Willis film Surrogates his only other big title, but a film in such a well respected franchise (at least it was well respected) needed a more adept hand than what Mostow and Burgess can muster.

At least the end is awesome! Isn’t it?
Terminator 3-4
The last five minutes of the movie are probably the best. After failing to stop Skynet and being tricked into an old fallout shelter in Colorado, John Connor and his love interest can do nothing but sit and wait out Judgement Day. Bad guy wins, good guy loses and the images of the missiles launching and hitting their targets are the most compelling in the movie. This was always my defense of the film to other people who wanted to trash it, as I am doing now, but on this viewing something hit me like a ton of bricks.

"There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."

“There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Terminator 3 takes the fundamental message of Terminator 2, that we are in control of our own fates and destiny, and pisses all over it. Arnie even tells John Connor “You cannot stop Judgement Day. It is your destiny.” This is the opposite message of the movie that came before it and it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Now I can kinda understand why they needed the change the philosophy a bit, to get this Terminator movie made. They could have done it differently, where they strip the time travel from the film and focus on Connor once again having to stop Skynet from getting developed but that movie would be more like a political or techno thriller than an action film. I also don’t see a problem with this, as it can be healthy for films in a franchise switching up genres to stay fresh. They tried so hard to just do what worked with T2 that the movie doesn’t even struggle to find it’s own identity, it just hopes you don’t notice that it’s not trying.

So it was really that bad? I could have been good. Hell, with another rewrite from someone who knew what they were doing and a better director, it probably could have been good. I can’t say that the movie sucks completely. As philosophically jarring the ending is, it’s still brilliant in it’s own way and allows the film to stand apart from it’s contemporaries, even if it can’t come anywhere near stacking up what came before it.

Tune in next where I develop a drinking problem just so I can get through Terminator: Salvation without wanting to kill myself.


Kyle Johannessen
Kyle Johannessen is an award winning filmmaker from Boston, Massachusetts and is generally cranky. He’s also a bit of a masochist, often reviewing terrible movies for the sake of a good article. He also loves video games and can often be found exploring Skyrim on his PC or playing Halo for the 1000th time on his Xbox One.

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