I’ve been thinking about what Terminator fans want from a movie and it seems like there’s no logical conclusion. When Dark Fate come out, people didn’t see it because John Conner got killed; when Genisys came out, people didn’t see it because it messed with the formula and injected random craziness that pissed even non-fans off; when Salvation came out, people were disappointed that the futuristic dystopian setting was wasted on a miscasted crew and a disappointing plot and when 3 came out, people complained that the OG actor from 2 didn’t come back to reprise his role as John Connor.
This was despite the fact that the movie was well-acted, had plenty of action, drama and romance and even had some decent twists that kept the story fresh. The movie didn’t do well critically because of several factors, mainly the lack of James Cameron but it did rake in a lot in the box office ending up grossing over $440 million.
So was two Terminator films enough or is there a soft spot for the 3rd film in the franchise that was destined for greener pastures?, despite Dark Fate attempts to correct the course.
While James Cameron did not helm the director’s chair or producer’s chair for this film, it does from start to finish feels like a cohesive James Cameron film. Plot wise, it has the familiar tinge that 4 Terminator films share; Terminator comes from the future to kill a target essential to a resistance that’s designed to stop an artificially intelligent AI that’s built for warfare but becomes self-aware within seconds and obliterates the world with nuclear missiles, a person comes back from the future to defend said person and said person has to find out how to be the leader he or she is destined to be. This film however has elements that are not found in films today.
Compared to Dark Fate, which felt like Tim Pool’s own take on Terminator which was littered with political undertones and a modern sensibility, this one feels like an indie homage to James Cameron with cinematography that is more varied and unique, action sequences that feel more sensible and logical and a plot that mixes the best of the first and second Terminator. Mixed in are a lot of metaphoric references to fate and futility in this film that use a plethora of items from animals to bible references to unique camera angles and slow motion which the film uses to emphasise certain points. The action, drama and references give weight to a plot that makes it more than just a mere threequel and quite honestly, gives the film substance that makes watching it enjoyable and filling.
The acting in Terminator 3 may not be as good as Terminator 2 but is done in a fashion that’s respectable and entertaining at the same time aside from some slight quirks. While John Connor may not be played by the same actor, the actor who is in his shoes does well, presenting the character with angst and weary as he presents a character who’s broken down and scared but with some strength in him. “Kate” Brewster plays the damsel in distress/love interest for John Connor. The chemistry between the two of them is developed slowly and casually; the progression is nicely maintained throughout the film, showcasing no awkwardness that might interrupt the pacing or the tension. Admittingly, is a nice homage to the first film without being insulting or forced.
Of course, no Terminator film would be complete without a role for Arnold and of course, he plays the role well but feels somewhat stiff and robotic complete with some cool punchlines. It’s fine for the role he plays which is the all-out killing machine who’s protecting our heroes but compared to Dark Fate, feels a bit hollow which is ultimately disappointing since he could of done more with the role but when you have to be the action hero in a 2003 film, what can you do?
While there may be some memorable action sequences and some admittingly pretty big set-pieces (the one in the graveyard comes to mind), the films best parts come not from the action but from the drama which helps to build the characters of which the film is provided with. It makes a noble attempt to take the characters and situation it’s provided with and make something that is respectable to the genre and the franchise, you really get a sense that these could be real people. It really feels like the environment is believable despite several things you have to suspend your disbelief for but then again, you have to suspend your disbelief for every movie so what can you do.
The one thing that can be found in this film that is lacking in Dark Fate is a sense of destiny and a feeling of inevitability. Most major movies have endings that are happy and everything is resolved; not this one. The film’s main hook is the sense of futility. The film early on gives you the impression that Judgement Day is a thing to be averted fooling audiences into not realising that the real twist comes from said inevitability through brief scenes that showcases the rise of Skynet through it’s infiltration into every system possible, pressuring humanity into an apocalypse from which they could not escape.
Compared to modern filmmaking in which every single film (including Passengers) has a happy ending where everybody survives, this is a pretty noble element that gives the film bravado. Nobody wanted to see this happen but it does happen and it’s the thing that sets the film apart from the rest. The unhappy ending. Not everything needs to be saved, not everything needs to be wrapped around in a pretty bow and seeing the whole thing unfold before our eyes is pretty astounding and ballsy. It also serves as a good conclusion for the stories the films were building up, proving that a good story comes not from the plot but from the heart.
Of course, nothing can match up to the first two films of the franchise but this comes pretty close. So what if your favorite character isn’t alive, so what if it’s not done by James Cameron, that shouldn’t demerit a film alone. The film’s desire to take risks and push the franchise into unexplored territory makes it a worthy attempt to push the boundaries of action filmmaking and a worthy entry in the Terminator franchise. While that direction may have been fumbled with Salvation, it’s still a good film in modern day standards and one that you will really enjoy watching.