Why does a cybernetic killing machine from the future speak with an Austrian accent? The answer remains a mystery, but it’s easy to understand why Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the best action movie of the year: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite holes in the plot so big that even a massive circa 1975 Arnold could fit through them, the big man lights up the screen, literally, delivering pulse-pounding action sequences along with brilliant one-liners in a well-paced and thoroughly entertaining sci-fi thriller.
The story of the third installment of the trilogy runs much like the other two: John Connor (Nick Stahl), now living a nomadic existence, is going to grow up to lead the victorious resistance against Skynet, a supercomputer that made war on humanity. To prevent its destruction, Skynet sends back their newest and most improved Terminator, TX (uber babe Kristanna Locken) to kill Connor and his various lieutenants, most significantly Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Meanwhile, the resistance has sent back an old Terminator (Schwarzenegger) to protect Connor and co.
The babeness (babe-ocity?) of Locken cannot be understated. Audiences may have found Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in T-2 more terrifying, but Locken as a gorgeous Terminatrix elicits a different, not displeasing reaction.
Fight scenes between Locken and Arnie are sensational, as is the film’s incredible car chase scene, which is probably one of the most destructive in film history. Indeed, the special effects are excellent and the CGI is not overdone.
A welcome non-reliance on CGI allows the film’s true star, Arnie, to shine. At age 55, the former body-builder is still in kick-ass shape that puts the cartoonish, computer animated Hulk to shame. Indeed, unlike Hulk, which drags and drags and never delivers, T-3 strikes the perfect balance of plot development (a little), senseless carnage (a lot) and light-hearted comedy (a fair amount).
Fortunately, Terminator 3 does not take itself too seriously. While Stahl and Danes have good chemistry as the helpless heroes, Arnold repeatedly steals the show with hilarious one-liners (now we understand the Austrian accent). His obsession with sunglasses and variations of the line “I’ll be back” add character to the movie.
Many doubted the film’s potential when it was discovered that Jonathan Mostow (U-571) would be directing, rather than Canadian-born James Cameron, who wrote and directed the first two Terminators. Mostow, however, did a fine job. And while Cameron may be the (self-proclaimed) “King of the World,” Schwarzenegger, a five-time Mr. Universe, doesn’t need great directors, or even a great story, to make a great movie.
This is not to say that the story was uninteresting. Despite the holes in the plot (if today’s brightest philosophers haven’t figured out time-travel and computer intelligence, why should Hollywood?) the movie still managed to raise interesting question about free will and the nature of mind.
More importantly the film’s ending was extremely satisfying, while still leaving room for a sequel. But while Cameron and ex-wife Linda Hamilton (who played Sarah Connor in the first two movies and was absent in the third) are expendable, Arnold is not. And the man is 55. But after such a tremendous performance in T-3, he has once again left us wondering not only “will he be back?” but also, “is there anything he can’t do?”
Well, since he was born in Austria, he can’t be president of the United States. But the staunch Republican, married to a Kennedy (the lovely Maria Shriver) may have to relinquish the Terminator role for a slightly less prestigious one: that of Governor of California. And if Austrian accents work for a futuristic killing machine, it should be perfect for an American governor.
David Weinfeld is former organizer of Arniefest, a film festival and Special Olympics fundraiser devoted to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.