With two highly successful entries, the Terminator franchise seemed to suddenly hit a standstill when trying to get a second sequel off the ground to follow-up the events of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. Throughout the nineties, writer/director James Cameron (“The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”) touted numerous times that a third film would be on the way; however, never once were one of these proclamations followed by any substantial proof of a sequel actually being in the works. Finally, after many years of back and forth, the next installment in the series began production in 2002, but this time James Cameron was not involved, nor was actress Linda Hamilton who had portrayed Sarah Connor in the first two movies. Taking over for Cameron was director Jonathan Mostow (“U-571”), and with all the shifts within cast and crew some worried that perhaps Arnold would stick to his original statement that he would not return for “T3” if James Cameron didn’t. For some reason, Arnold didn’t stick to his guns, which was probably a fortunate decision for the sake of this film, and the actor was ready to take on his fellow machines once more, alongside Nick Stahl as John Connor (replacing Edward Furlong), in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”.

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” takes place approximately 10 years after the previous movie, and John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living out his life in fear that one day the dreaded events of the prophesied “Judgment Day” would still occur. Soon John begins to wonder if all his worries have been in vain, when a new threat from the future, a super-advanced Terminator identified simply as T-X (aka Terminatrix), arrives in the present day to eliminate all of the high ranking members of the human resistance before they are allowed to join forces against Skynet. Around this time, John encounters a former childhood friend named Kate Brewster (Claire Danes); however, this reunion could be cut short if the T-X has her way. To attempt to prevent the T-X’s success, the resistance has once more sent back a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) of their own assigned to protect all those on the T-X hit list before it’s too late.

With so many difficulties plaguing this sequel prior to it beginning production in 2002, I’m sure many wondered if there was even a need to continue the series; especially with writer/director James Cameron opting out of the project. If the series’ mastermind isn’t willing to return for a third go-round, what possible good could come with pursuing the movie anyways? Apparently, this kind of logical thinking didn’t enter into the minds of the people at Warner Brothers, and based on the final product of “T3” I would have to say that avoiding that kind of thinking paid off rather well for the most part.

Regarding James Cameron’s replacement, Jonathan Mostow, he was given the unenviable job of following up two highly successful and extremely well-respected movies in the realm of sci-fi. Not to mention following behind arguably one of the best director’s in modern cinema. I have to say that barring a few gripes, Mostow’s “T3” holds up well, but does fall just a tad shy of its predecessors. Jonathan’s previous film, the World War II submarine action/drama “U-571”, most likely prepared him to handle large scale action sequences, and gripping drama that deals with the fate of many people’s lives hanging in the balance. So, as far as replacements go, I think that Warner Brothers left the series in extremely capable hands.

Due to James Cameron not returning for this entry, two new writers were brought onboard to pen the script for Arnold’s third outing as the leather-clad killing machine. Writers John Brancato (“The Net”) and Michael Ferris (“Catwoman”) co-wrote the screenplay borrowing heavily from other Terminator related sources, such as; the concepts of a female Terminator and Judgment Day being postponed from the novel T2: Infiltrator, and taking some cues from a previous script written by Tedi Serafian that included Sarah dying of cancer a few years after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. Even with the less-than original ideas, John and Michael still delivered a tight script that boasted plenty of fast-paced action, and finally pushed the series closer to the futuristic events that we have only seen glimpses of in the previous movies. One somewhat disappointing aspect to the story of “T3” is that the movie feels like there is less going on here than in the previous two films. The first movie was essentially this two hour cat-and-mouse game between the Terminator and Sarah and Reese; the second one had a similar feel, but also had so much other stuff going on that the film was just incredibly rich with storytelling. However, in this third movie the story, although solid, didn’t seem to have as much drama and actual plot going on as the first two movies had, which may explain why the action sequences were bigger, and possibly more frequent in this movie than the previous ones.

One area of these films that has improved significantly from movie to movie is the visual effects. In the first movie, “The Terminator”, the effects were good for their time, although incredibly dated by today’s standards; in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” the special effects were given a major boost by the advent of CGI. So, twelve years after the release of “T2”, one can easily say the capabilities of today’s visual effects wizards are nothing short of astonishing. Therefore, it really comes as no surprise that for “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” the numerous effects sequences were obviously the best in the series’ history, but also were some of the best of the year 2003.

Lastly, the cast of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” was mostly impressive, maintaining the high standards the series had held since it began back in 1984. Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”) was a surprise to me, because so much time had passed since his time as the Terminator that I wondered if he could physically get back in shape for the role at his age, and with his interest in politics beginning to eat up more of his time. Surprisingly, Arnold pulled it all off, and aside from a few possible extra wrinkles he appeared to look virtually the same as he had back in 1991, which served the continuity of the series very well I might add. From an acting standpoint, after two previous movies, I believe Arnold knows this character inside and out, so for him there wasn’t anything new to work with, most likely he just wanted to do it for the fans of the series. Plus, what would a Terminator movie be without Arnold somewhere in sight? Regarding the remainder of the cast, Claire Danes was a good choice for Kate Brewster, John’s childhood friend, she brought a kind of toughness and a slight leadership quality that somewhat made up for the absence of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Newcomer Kristanna Loken (“Bloodrayne”) was a nice addition as the lethal femme fatale model of Terminator known as T-X or Terminatrix as she was sometimes referred; and she is easily the most dangerous, and attractive, of all the Terminator villains we’ve seen so far.

Out of the entire cast I only had one problem with one of the main members, and by this time you have probably figured out who I’m talking about, by looking at whom I haven’t discussed yet. You guessed it, actor Nick Stahl (“Sin City”) as John Connor was a major problem for me in this movie. As an actor I think Nick has done a good job in the various roles I have seen him in over the years; however, I for one don’t believe he was a great choice to play John this close to the period in his life where he may possibly be called upon to lead humanity in its darkest hours. I thought that Nick made John seem far too whiny with his whole poor pitiful me routine that he kept using over and over throughout the movie. I kind of felt like for the future leader of mankind, I sure wouldn’t follow this loser into battle; honestly, he kind of seemed like Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, where he was constantly whining about Obi-Wan and the council holding him back from greatness. The difference being, here John wasn’t seeking greatness, he just wanted to runaway and hide somewhere like a coward; although I must admit that around the midpoint of the movie, John does take a more proactive stance and begins to show signs that perhaps the leader that has been prophesied about may yet exist.

After watching all three Terminator films back-to-back over an incredibly fun Saturday, I have to say that while “T3” is still a highly entertaining entry into the series; it is the weakest one out of the three. The story is fast-paced, but feels at times to be a little weaker due to not nearly as much going on as there was in “T2”; the action sequences were fun and on occasion were flat-out impressive to watch, and of course the visual effects were the best in the series. However, the slightly weaker story, coupled with a questionable performance from Nick Stahl as a semi-weak acting John Connor, and a few possible continuity errors between this movie and the previous ones made “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” not quite as good as either of the previous films in the series.

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” is rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.