8/2/07

R026 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

(2003, Action/SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

She’s a pouty little death robot from the future.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Future freedom fighter John Connor rushes to prevent a robot apocalypse.

Summary:

We saved the world last time and the time before that.  This time we'll just kick back and watch it burn.In the years after his teenaged adventures in anti-robot freedom fighting (see Terminator 2), destined rescuer of all mankind John Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a drug-addled, quasi-luddite loner who breaks into animal hospitals for painkillers. He does this after a particularly bruising wipeout on his motorcycle, and gets caught by the veterinarian’s assistant Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). She recognizes him as her high school crush, but beats him up and locks him in a kennel anyway. This is the third thing that happens in the movie.

The first thing is the arrival of T-X, a shapeshifting killer robot from the future who prefers the petite and rather fetching form of Kristanna Loken. She arrives naked, murders various people for clothes, a vehicle, and a weapon, and then starts to assassinate a list of youngsters who will later become leaders of the human resistance after the impending robot apocalypse. Having obtained information on her whereabouts, she zeroes in on one Kate Brewster…

The second thing is the arrival of Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an obsolete model of killer robot, reprogrammed and sent back in time by the resistance to protect John and Kate from the predatory T-X. He robs a male stripper for a leather fetish outfit and zooms off into the night in a hotwired monster truck.

The fourth thing is that everyone meets at the animal hospital for an extended bout of punches, gunfire, and explosions. Terminator rescues John, kidnaps Kate, and engages in a lengthy (like, twenty consecutive minutes lengthy) road duel with his perfectly groomed killer robot nemesis.

They escape, and Terminator takes them to John’s mother’s grave, which is not a real grave but a heavy weapons cache. Still unconvinced, Kate snatches up a gun and shoots Terminator in the head. She gasps in horror and runs outside upon seeing metal through the newly drilled hole in his forehead flesh.

She's a pouty little death robot from the future.Due to Terminator’s indiscreet earlier actions, the cops are waiting outside. They whisk her away to her waiting fiancé while they futilely fire round after round at the impervious Terminator. Said fiancé turns out to be a shapeshifted T-X, standing in for Kate’s newly murdered beau. Kate flees back to John and Terminator, who have commandeered a hearse as a getaway vehicle. An only slightly less lengthy road duel ensues. Of course they escape again.

And now, an expository interlude: While they jack an empty RV, it comes out that at 6:18 p.m. that very evening, evil artificial intelligence Skynet will seize control of the nation’s defense systems and unleash nuclear Armageddon on entire world. Terminator’s mission is to guide John and Kate away from the primary blast zones, so that they can survive to lead the human resistance movement. Also: upon further query about how he came to be here, it is revealed that Terminator was captured and reprogrammed by future Kate after successfully assassinating her future husband John, adding a whole new dimension of awkwardness to the situation. Also, also: Kate’s father is on T-X’s assassination list, as he is the military officer who developed Skynet in the first place. John gets the bright idea that he can stop the apocalypse if they can prevent Kate’s dad from deploying Skynet before 6:18 p.m.

They arrive in military headquarters minutes after Skynet is deployed, just in time to watch T-X gun Kate’s father down. Weapon-tossing, glass-breaking, robot-punching mayhem ensues, during which John gets the bright idea that if he can blow up Skynet’s main server, he can stop the bombs from falling. Kate’s father mumbles something about access codes and Crystal Mountain before he expires. They take the codes and escape via light plane, leaving T-X and Terminator behind.

Upon arriving, they punch in access codes like mad while a T-X-driven helicopter crashes through a nearby wall. She advances menacingly upon them, but gets run down when a Terminator-driven helicopter crashes through another wall and lands on top of her. Terminator guides them through a heavy blast door, and then sacrifices himself to blow up T-X once and for all. John rushes into the facility to find…

…a lot of obsolete computer and radio equipment. It’s a disused mid-century fallout shelter (and homage to the classic role-playing game Fallout). Further deductive exposition on his part reveals that their enemy has no main servers. It was an artificially intelligent virus spontaneously generated on the internet, and had been developing in a decentralized manner all along; the actions of Kate’s dad simply gave it access to the military computer network. 6:18 p.m. arrives. The bombs begin to fall. Beleaguered ham radio operators cry out for direction. John seizes a microphone to issue orders and information, thus beginning the resistance. To be continued…

Thoughts:

Most veterinarian's assistants aren't qualified for this kind of work.You know what’s bizarre? The way each prior installment of the series has neatly solved the little “robot from the future” problem, so that every sequel has to think of a new way to get it started again.

End of Terminator 1: “This explosion has prevented the upcoming robot apocalypse!”
Beginning of Terminator 2: “Oops, never mind.”
End of Terminator 2: “This explosion has prevented the upcoming robot apocalypse!”
Beginning of Terminator 3: “Oops, never mind.”

The problem is not unique to Terminator. This kind of thing happens so often in so many different series that Invalidate the Previous Film is now a tired cliché in the world of cheap science fiction. (For example: the Highlander series racks its tiny brains in movie after movie for ways to explain the presence of more head-lopping immortals, when every prior entry has ended with their presumed extinction.) This is why I was very surprised to see the end of Terminator 3 break the unending cycle by…

…invoking a tired cliché from another genre. This one is called He Comes To Realize, best demonstrated in my mind by Disney’s recent classic, The Tigger Movie. In it, Tigger becomes lonely for others of his kind and alienates his friends in a mad search for further Tiggers. His friends, of course, stick by him in this time of trial, and eventually He Comes To Realize that they are his true family after all. (Another example: It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the angel’s manipulation of the past helps Jimmy Stewart Come To Realize...you know the rest.)

It’s interesting to see how they shoehorned this into an otherwise by-the-numbers science fiction action flick. Rather than blow up Skynet again, John Comes To Realize that Skynet has been with him all along. Skynet has been in dorm computers, public servers, and telephone switchboards. (And, I half-expected him to add, in the laughter of children, in the happy barking of the neighborhood dogs; indeed, within the hearts of all mankind.) Rather than preserve everything he knows and loves, John Comes To Realize that his true purpose is to embrace the world’s destruction and help humanity rise from the ashes.

You know what’s even more bizarre? Ridiculous as it is, I actually like this ending better.

Kevin “Tom Servo” Murphy joins Mike “Mike Nelson” Nelson for the commentary track, and they have a great deal of fun with the material given them. Near the beginning, John’s robot apocalypse nightmare leads to a hilarious mass C-3PO impression from Mike, followed by Kevin’s remark upon the obligatory Startled Awakening, “Remind me never to eat a graphics card before bedtime.” When Terminator deadpans, “Your fiancé is dead,” Kevin remarks, “Those are the first four words I ever said to my wife.” When the sentient virus seizes control of Skynet and starts its campaign of robot supremacy, Mike notes, “I guess the Vista upgrade didn’t go as planned.” Also included are many, many comments about Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor of California, as well as several remarks comparing the later sets to video game environments. It’s a reasonably watchable action flick made better by a reasonably funny commentary track.