Everyone loves a come-back story. And this Arnold Schwarzenegger classic is no exception.
Rebooting a long-dormant movie franchise has its challenges: The studio has to bank on the original fans still caring and swaying a new audience. The cast has to either be wrangled back in the studio or new actors need to sign up for a franchise associated in fans’ minds with someone else. Is the reboot a special one-and-done affair or the next step in the franchise? (Or, if you are Batman, a new franchise?)
In the case of rebooting the Terminator movies with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the movie essentially split the difference. Skynet, a machine uprising, and Arnie combined with the popularity of James Cameron’s Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time, practically guarantee a winning formula no matter what else. And factor in the extra juice any fresh Terminator film might squeeze from the extra-curricular activities of their charismatic lead: T3 was released during the same time period Schwarzenegger triumphed in California’s gubernatorial race.
With T3 streaming this week on HBO Max, now is the perfect time to rewatch — or see for the first time — this semi-silly, fully explosive action movie.
Cameron had no interest in returning to the franchise, but Schwarzenegger was willing — for enough money. After a tortuous legal battle over the franchise’s ownership, the then proprietors decided they had to pony up for the star. They reportedly guaranteed Schwarzenegger a payout of $29 million before they were even sure the movie would get made.
But having Arnie on board also got things moving. Essentially the continuation of T2’s kid John Connor’s story, T3 ages him up (Nick Stahl) to a twentysomething living off-the-grid. Although his frugal life keeps Skynet at arm’s length, it’s not going great. At one point, Connor has to break into an animal hospital to steal medicine for himself. He’s not a great cat burglar, however, and he is confronted by veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), who easily overwhelms him with a paintball gun.
Kate and John have a history — they went to school together and even shared a kiss. And more importantly, they also have a future.
Future Skynet has determined the two of them will get married, and she’ll be his trusty lieutenant. So they send a T-X (Kristanna Loken) back in time to knock her out. The Resistance sends back the reliable T-850 (Schwarzenegger).
The gorgeous T-X is seductive, but her true weapons are her strength and control of electric machinery, like cars. These abilities come to the fore in T3’s most thrilling sequence: A chase that sees T-850 on a motorcycle and then a fire truck going after the T-X as it rides a giant construction crane truck after Connor, who is attempting to flee in a beat-up animal-hospital van.
The sequence, in which the T-X also controls several police cruisers and ambulances, is vintage Terminator. It’s also funny, with a running bit about Connor wrecking a guy’s car and then the T-X completely destroying it.
In fact, there is non-stop destruction. Car after car on the crowded Los Angeles streets goes up in flames, and Connor even drives through a children’s ball pit. Add in the classic gag of a Terminator showing up again and again and again — and again. The moment Arnie smashes a fire truck’s car window, and says, “I’ll drive,” before throwing a bunch of firemen onto the street, it’s hard not to fall in love with the franchise all over again. The weapons and nukes help the action, too.
One thing T3 does, however, is it called T2 into question. The audience now knows John Connor didn’t stop Judgment Day, as described in the older movie. In T3, John learns from T-850 that the dominion of machines over man is inevitable. As promised by the title, the movie does go through the transfer of power from man to machine — but it is a bit difficult to visualize because it’s all digital.
Ultimately, T3 is really invested in John Connor’s rise. It’s a fun movie — arguably the last of the franchise to put story over mythos, and well worth the watch on HBO Max before it leaves this week.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is streaming now on HBO Max.