“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) is a middling sequel with a surprisingly bold ending…


It’s been 20 years since the release of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” which came a good dozen years after 1991’s mega-hit “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” T2 would’ve been a perfectly fine place to end the franchise; however, with Arnold Schwarzenegger still in fighting shape at age 56 (he was as old then as I am now), the second sequel ultimately went ahead without James Cameron in the director’s chair. In his place was director Jonathan Mostow (“Breakdown” “U-571”).

As seen with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exposed endoskeleton, T3’s CGI-augmented makeups are a plus.

Killing off Sarah Connor and recasting John Connor with then-newcomer Nick Stahl, T3 followed many of the same beats as T2. In fact, it’s more or less the same story (a reprogrammed terminator is sent back in time to help our heroes escape from a more advanced terminator). Even the new T-X model Terminator (Kristanna Loken) is just another variation of the “mimetic polly-alloy” T-1000 shapeshifter from T2.  Despite many repeating beats from the first two films, there are some surprisingly good ideas in this otherwise middle-of-the-road sequel. 

Kristanna Loken’s T-X terminator also has a concealed plasma weapon (and inflatable breasts) in her arsenal.

For this review, I viewed the movie digitally projected in a darkened room onto a 7 ft/2 meter screen to more or less approximate the theatrical experience I remember from 20 years ago.  To quote Schwarzenegger’s T-850 model terminator in the movie, “It’s time.”

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003)

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, with a story by credited to Tedi Sarafian, as well as screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, T3 opens with narration from a now twenty-something John Connor (Nick Stahl). John brings us up to date on how’s he’s been living “off the grid” since he and his mother successfully averted the cyber-apocalypse known as “Judgment Day” back in the mid-1990s. Sarah Connor has since passed away from cancer, having lived just long enough to see August 29th, 1997 come and go without a horrific nuclear cataclysm.

In flash-forwards, we see a future John Connor (Nick Stahl) defeating the forces of Skynet.

Note: Sarah Connor’s ‘death’ in 1997 is one of a few details that’d be retconned in later Terminator movies, most notably “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019), as well as the excellent but sadly short-lived TV series, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (which really deserved another season, at least).

To Live and Die in L.A
John Connor lives offs the grid after believing he saved the future 12 years ago.

John is now an aimless man, going from town to town, one job to the next (though never quite leaving the Los Angeles area, it seems). Haunted by dreams of a judgment day he fears might still be coming, John hops onto his motorcycle one night after waking from another nuclear nightmare and gets into a nasty wreck while avoiding a deer.  Unable to go to a hospital because of his fugitive status, he breaks into a veterinary clinic to use animal painkillers to ease the pain of his injuries. 

Bot Naked.
The T-X (Kristanna Loken) arrives in a much better part of town.

Meanwhile, in Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive that same night, we see a familiar crackling of energy in the storefront window of a high-end boutique—the arcs of energy that herald the arrival of a time-traveler in these movies.  With the window glass shattered and the plastic mannequins melted, we see a nude young woman (Kristanna Loken) emerging from the eye of the event. She rises, clearly not experiencing pain (a dead giveaway for terminators) and calmly walks across the street—completely naked—towards a flashy Lexus being driven by a wealthy woman (Carolyn Hennessy) in a leather suit.  The woman shows concern that the nude stranger might be in some kind of trouble. The dead-eyed “T-X” model terminator simply says, “I like your car.” 

Note: My question is, if these shapeshifter terminators can travel though time without an organic skin-layer (per the ‘rules’ of time travel established in the first film), then why bother arriving naked?  Couldn’t these mimetic terminators simply arrive with the appearance of being fully clothed?  Gotta show off those sexy nude murder machines, I guess…

The T-X quickly learns that this form gives her some unique advantages…

In no time at all, the shapeshifting T-X (as she’s known) is speeding through LA in the dead woman’s Lexus, having successfully mimicked her chic red leather suit, as well. We see the T-X getting pulled over by a cop. After stopping the car, the T-X notices an advertisement for “WonderBras” on a nearby billboard, and she inflates her breasts accordingly in an effort to distract the male policeman.  As the undeterred cop begins his questioning, the T-X seductively purrs, “I like your gun.”

Note: One of the few times we see the T-X strategically using her feminine outer appearance. She hardly needs to do so, of course, given her abilities, but the scene of the T-X adding a few cup sizes to sway the cop is a knee-slapper, however silly.

Clerks 0.
Poor Jose Berrera (Robert Alonzo) wasn’t even supposed to be here today!

The T-X then connects to the internet (as she makes hilariously retro dial-up noises into a car phone), in an effort to learn the whereabouts of her targets; the future lieutenants of John Connor’s army.  Since John is living off the grid, the terminators are now focused on eliminating his support team from the future. We then see the T-X shooting innocent high-school age kids, including a particularly brutal scene where she pulls up to a fast food drive-thru window and shoots a young worker named Jose Berrerra (Robert Alonzo).

Note: Those “random” shooting scenes have a lot more grisly resonance today, with the US being completely inundated by senseless gun violence after 2003, including school shootings and other mass murder events. It’s completely insane.

Kathryn Brewster (Claire Danes) and her creepy fiancé Scott Peterson (Mark Famiglietti) get registered at a building filled with curious wares in what used to called a “department store” in ancient times …

Meanwhile, a young woman named Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) is out with her fiancé Scott Peterson (Mark Famiglietti) at a department store completing their wedding registry, which is beset by issues with the department store’s barcode readers and other technical snafus.  Kate is also trying to have a phone chat with her father, USAF General Robert Brewster (David Andrews, “Apollo 13”), who is unable to attend Kate’s wedding shower because of issues he’s having with a new highly-classified computer defense project (aka “Skynet”) at Edwards Air Force Base. The general promises he’ll meet Kate’s fiancé Scott as soon as he can. 

General Robert Brewster (David Andrews) is experiencing a bad case of rage against the machine…

Note: Kate’s fiancé is named “Scott Peterson,” which is, coincidentally or not, the name of the real-life convicted killer of Laci Peterson, Scott’s pregnant wife, whom Scott murdered in a diabolical plot to be with his mistress after feigning ignorance of Laci’s disappearance. Scott Peterson is currently in prison. While T3’s Scott is more benign than his infamous namesake, he is later replaced by the shapeshifting T-X and kills two cops before attempting to kill Kate as well. Whether the movie intentionally named Scott after the high-profile convicted killer is not entirely clear. If so, it’s arguably in bad taste, since Laci Peterson was killed only six months prior to the release of the movie. 

“I need your clothes, your boots and those fabulous sunglasses…” 
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives in the middle of Mojave, so naturally, there’s a ladies’ night strip club nearby.

In the middle of the desert, we once again see lightning-like arcs appear from nowhere, burning cacti and nearby brush, while melting local sand into glass. This heralds the arrival of a familiar T-850 model terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who then walks buck-naked into the nearest town.  Luckily arriving at an outskirts bar on “Ladies’ Night,” the nude cyborg (living tissue over a metal endoskeleton) walks in as a male stripper is beginning his set. When the Austrian-accented terminator commands the stripper to “Take off your clothes,” he is comically met with the stripper telling him to “Wait your turn, honey.” The frustrated killing machine asks once again, but is told to “Talk to the hand,” which the cyborg takes and crushes, before taking the stripper’s leather jacket and other garb—sending the audience of women into a frenzy. In his newly-acquired leather jacket, the terminator finds a pair of star-shaped sunglasses, which he discards for a less flashy pair he finds in the pickup truck he steals.  With clothes and wheels, the terminator then heads into Los Angeles…

Note: The then 56-year old Arnold Schwarzenegger got himself into incredible shape for the film—looking almost exactly as he did 12 years earlier in T2.  Mind you, this was following heart surgery Schwarzenegger had in 1997, before the release of “Batman & Robin.”  2003 also marked the year Schwarzenegger successfully ran for “governator” of California after a recall election. Schwarzenegger’s governorship was a mixed bag that saw new environmental reforms, but also an unfortunate reversal with LBGTQ+ rights (Prop 8) and a lack of progress in controlling the state’s deficit For the record, I did not vote for Schwarzenegger. 

The T-X experiences a ‘cyborgasm’ after sampling primary target John Connor’s blood. 
The T-X is made more graceful and feminine, but no less deadly.

Early the following morning, Kate receives a call from the veterinary clinic where she works; a woman is worried that her cat might be seriously ill. Arriving at the clinic well before business hours, Kate finds the clinic’s drug supply ransacked (“Junkies”). She then sees a heavily-sedated John Connor holding a paintball gun, in an effort to leave without Kate alerting the authorities. Kate, a general’s daughter, realizes the gun is fake, and easily overpowers John, whom she throws into a large animal cage until police can arrive.  She later recognizes John as a former classmate who disappeared the day after his foster parents were murdered ten years earlier.  John assures her he’s innocent, but before he can plead his case, the T-X arrives at the clinic. Shooting the cat-lady, the T-X then makes her way past the entrance.  Noticing a trail of blood on the floor, the T-X ‘samples’ its DNA with her tongue (yech) and realizes her primary target—John Connor—must be nearby. 

Note: An interesting acting choice by Kristanna Loken as she samples John’s blood; her face is overcome with an orgasmic expression—as if locating her elusive primary target brought momentary ecstasy to the machine. It’s one of the few times in the film we see the T-X experience an emotion seemingly not dictated by her infiltration programming.

“Here I come to save the daaaaayyyy!”
The T-800 arrives on the scene, only to get his ass handed to him by the T-X.

As the T-X closes in on Kate and demands the location of John Connor, the T-800 terminator arrives, narrowly saving Kate’s life from the T-X before aiding John Connor as well.  As John escapes his cage, he sees the familiar face of the terminator, like something out of a fever dream, telling him, “John Connor, it is time.” The T-850 throws a confused and terrified Kate into the back of her own truck which John then drives away to safety.  With the truck gone, the T-800 remains behind to stop the T-X, which then fires a shot of high energy-plasma from her right arm.  With the T-850 momentarily offline from the blast, the T-X then steals a massive mobile crane rig and begins her wild pursuit of John and Kate through the suburbs of L.A…  

Note: The terrified and confused Kate (Claire Danes)—whose world is turned upside down by the arrival of the terminators—follows a very similar arc to that of Linda Hamilton’s “Sarah Connor” from 1984’s “The Terminator,” which saw equally terrified college student/waitress Sarah rise to the challenge of becoming the battle-hardened “mother from the future.”  Like Sarah, Kate is destined be very important in the post-Judgment Day world.  Actress Claire Danes came to the role with her own following after her 1994 cult-TV series “My So-Called Life.” Danes solidified her TV-star status as a tough federal agent in Showtime’s “Homeland” (2011-2020).

Wherever there are terminators present, insurance rates seem to skyrocket for some reason…

The T-850 soon reboots (to the astonishment of paramedics) and resumes its pursuit of the T-X, which is busy chasing after John and Kate.  After a very long, winding and destructive chase through the streets of suburban L.A, the T-850 slows the T-X down long enough to rejoin John and Kate in their now-battered truck, which sustained quite a few scrapes with local traffic—including one very angry local motorist. During the prolonged chase, we learn that the T-X has the ability to remotely control other machines—including a squad of police cars—which it uses to chase after the battered little veterinary service truck.  After the T-850 succeeds in slowing the T-X by demolishing its construction rig, the renegade group of escapees head for the desert area outside the city…

Note: Kate’s truck is superficially similar to the landscaping truck ‘acquired’ by the T-800, John and Sarah in T2.  While there are a number of impressive stunts during the chase through the suburbs of L.A, the sequence goes on far too long. Also, the topography of suburban L.A is not nearly as interesting a location as, say, the drainage canal chase between John’s trail bike and the T-1000’s semi truck in T2. Watching this overlong pursuit, we become numb to the noise and destruction, since we know they’re going to escape from the T-X this early in the film, so there’s no suspense. The chase feels very padded.

“Does not compute, Will Robinson.”
John Connor tries to jog the Terminator’s memory banks

As the ragtag trio of fugitives—John, the T-850, and a kidnapped Kate—head away from the city, John tries to reconnect with the T-850, whom he mistakes for the T-800 model he befriended as a boy, ten years earlier. The T-850 tells him that was a different terminator—this is a new model reprogrammed by the human resistance to stop the T-X, whom it admits is more powerful and advanced. John can’t understand how the T-850 can exist after they stopped Judgment Day. The cyborg coolly relates that John and Sarah didn’t prevent Judgment Day; they only delayed it a few years. With one of its two hydrogen fuel cells damaged in the earlier T-X attack, the T-850 removes the unstable unit and tosses it from the truck’s window—creating a blast and shockwave. The violent turbulence sends passenger Kate into a near-panic, as the terminator opens a window between the driver’s seat and the rear compartment, sternly commanding her to “RELAX!” 

Note: An outdated trope used in this movie is the ‘abduction romance’ scenario, where Kate and John grudgingly fall in love after the T-850 abducts her and unwittingly (or not?) plays matchmaker for the two. Abduction is never romantic. This is one movie trope that needs to be retired sooner than later.

Nope, nothing suspicious at all about a future California governor throwing a girl into the back of a truck…

Stopping for supplies and fuel at a mini-mart/gas station outside of Victorville, the T-850 tosses piles of junk food into a grocery basket. We learn from the store’s malfunctioning cash register that a new ‘super-virus’ is affecting computers, cash registers, phones and even TV reception.  As the T-850 walks out with the basket of junk food, the clerk payment. Borrowing a phrase from the male stripper earlier, the T-850 holds up a glove and says “Talk to the hand.” The clerk then sees Kate screaming from the back of her truck, after John and the T-850 do a quick wellness check.  This prompts the clerk to call the police and report the truck’s license plate.  Meanwhile, John volunteers to ride in back with Kate to keep her company.  He then tells her all about Judgment Day, and the fate of the world.  Kate says she remembers the two of them making out in “Mike Kripke’s basement” when they were kids, the night before his foster parents were killed. John then wonders aloud if they would’ve gotten together had the events of T2 not occurred…

Tales from the Crypt.
John, Kate and the Terminator discover Sarah Connor’s legacy—a casket cache of weapons.

Needing to ditch their now-spotted truck, the T-850 drives them to a cemetery where the late Sarah Connor’s casket is interred. The three enter the cemetery’s mausoleum, and John is mortified when the cyborg pulls Sarah’s casket from the wall and forces it open—revealing not a body, but a huge cache of weapons. The T-850 tells John this was in accordance with her will, since her body was cremated in Mexico. Seeing an opportunity to escape, Kate grabs a pistol from the casket and threatens to shoot the T-850.  John tells her to go ahead, and she does.  Like the old magic trick, the terminator catches the bullet with its teeth, telling her “Don’t do that.”  After the crypt is surrounded by police SWAT teams, a gas grenade is tossed into the room.  During the melee, Kate breaks free and runs in the direction of the police. 

Note: The sequels and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” would later contradict this movie’s versions of events.  Turns out Sarah was only “mostly dead” (in the words of Miracle Max).  There are probably at least seven or eight different timelines (or more) within the Terminator franchise.  While this may seem to be an unmanageable mess, it also makes a certain kind of sense for a franchise that depends upon a malleable future. That said, most of the Terminator sequels after this one are pretty lousy, to be honest…

Aptly-named fiancé “Scott Peterson” is a bit of a metalhead…

John and the T-850 briefly argue over the ‘destiny’ John doesn’t want, before they’re forced to flee with the late Sarah’s casket of weapons.  Meanwhile, Kate is comforted by police psychiatrist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), as SWAT teams unsuccessfully try to stop the terminator.  Soon afterward, Kate sees her smiling fiancé Scott emerge from the back of an unmarked police car. As she runs toward him, she quickly realizes ‘Scott’ is actually the shapeshifting T-X, which killed her fiancé and assumed his identity.  As ‘Scott,’ the T-X was able to ride along with detectives investigating Kate’s kidnapping before killing them as well. With nowhere to run, Kate flees with John and the T-850 in a hearse, which was parked at the cemetery. The T-X is in hot pursuit once again…

Note: The first and third Terminator films both see extreme loss hardening the heroines into accepting their future fates. Kate’s world is destroyed one piece at a time; her workplace, her fiancé, and later on, her father.  This parallels Sarah Connor from the first film, who loses her roommate, her mother, and the man she loves (Kyle Reese), all in the same day. Reduced to relying mainly on themselves, the women of the Terminator movies come to learn how resourceful and self-reliant they can be under extreme circumstances.

Breaking Bot.
Kate, John and the Terminator find the ideal RV in which to cook their meth…

With their getaway hearse becoming an unexpected convertible after narrowly escaping the destructive power of the T-X, the fugitives once again have to acquire new transportation. Pulling into a woodsy campsite, they find an unattended RV, which they immediately plan to steal. The T-850 reveals that the T-X is probably on its way to Edwards Air Force Base to help facilitate Judgment Day—which is due to happen in six hours. Kate tells John that her father is stationed at Edwards, and that they have to save him by stopping Judgment Day. The T-850 states that’s not his mission; he is to get the two of them to safety at all costs. An angered John then takes a pistol to his own head—forcing to T-850 to comply with his order, since he can’t risk the loss of his mission objectives. 

John and Kate learn their futures from a rather unconventional fortune teller.

During the hour-plus drive to Edwards AFB, the T-850 tells John that Kate is to become his most trusted second-in-command…and future wife. While feigning disgust at the notion, Kate grudgingly admits she had a crush on John when they were kids. The Terminator notes the levity between the two of them, saying that such feelings promote ‘pair bonding.’  Turns out the T-850 is familiar with basic human psychology (of course). John and Kate also get another surprise when they learn Kate is the one who reprogrammed the T-850 for its current mission, and that it only responds to her orders.  John is curious why he didn’t reprogram it, and the terminator flatly reveals that he killed future John Connor, on July 4th, 2032. The T-850 says it was chosen for the task of killing John, given John’s boyhood attachment to the T-800 series. After John’s assassination, the cyborg was then captured by Kate, who reprogrammed it to be their protector.

Note: After we see Arnold’s terminator acting like a parody of itself for much of the movie, we finally get a bit of unexpected darkness after we learn this is the very machine that will kill John Connor in the future. This revelation adds unexpected (and much needed) weight to Schwarzenegger’s presence. 

“The Talking Dead.”
Comedian/TV-host Chris Hardwicke (left) is one of the Skynet IT guys assisting General Brewster.

At Edwards AFB, the situation is chaotic as the new super-virus sweeping the world’s computers is causing major disruptions to national defense as well.  Government authorities are pressuring base commander General Brewster to initiate a new virus-killing military AI system called Skynet (yeah, we know that name). With his own IT crew insisting Skynet will eliminate the virus almost instantly, Brewster is still hesitant to turn over all national defense to an AI, however briefly. With the virus posing an even greater danger at the moment, Brewster reluctantly surrenders control to Skynet. The AI goes to work right away, but then the entire base suddenly goes offline. Skynet seems to have its own agenda…

Note: Given recent furor over the unclear role of AI in society, this part of the movie feels very timely. AI is also one of the driving forces behind the current WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, as studios threaten to use AI to replace human writers and actors. One of the more intriguing ideas of this sequel is the notion that Skynet is no longer based in military hardware—it exists across the globe as AI software. This makes Skynet even more elusive and dangerous. Like the multi-headed hydra of mythology, Skynet can no longer be destroyed by blowing up a single computer factory, server or chip. Skynet is everywhere, awaiting the opportunity for a hostile takeover—an opportunity it creates with the ‘virus.’

“Pull my finger—I dare you.”
The T-X reconnects with her ancestors…

Meanwhile, the T-X has arrived at the base in a USAF officer’s uniform in order to exploit the current chaos caused by Skynet. The T-X uses its unique remote-controlling abilities to activate  the base’s inventory of automated weapons.  With the base rendered defenseless, fleets of robotic tanks and flying drones (early versions of Skynet machines we see in the earlier ‘flash-forwards’) come online, and begin their hostile takeover, indiscriminately slaughtering dozens of people—military and civilian contractors alike. As predicted, the newly-empowered Skynet sees all of humanity as a threat.

Note: Even at the time of the movie’s release 20 years ago, we already saw robots and drones play increasingly active roles in modern warfare and even civilian policing (bomb deactivation, for example). Granted, most of these current machines use human operators, but fully-automated driverless cars already exist as well. Unlike the smoothly-operating machines of the movie, driverless car technology is fraught with glitches, and has even caused lots of accidents.  Personally, I will never ride in a car without a human driver—call me old-fashioned, but I’m just quirky that way…

Kate and John get survival advice from her dying father.

The trio of fugitives arrives at Edwards as Skynet’s takeover is underway. A horrified Kate sees the T-X disguised as herself, shooting her father right in front of her eyes!  The T-850 intervenes, forcing the T-X into a strategic retreat.  Kate and John then rush her wounded father into his nearby office. Once there, he gives them codebooks and other information, urging them to seek safety at “Crystal Peak,” a hardened military installation deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. With his dying breath, Brewster tells Kate and John to follow the base’s underground particle accelerator out to the airfield, where they can use his plane to escape. From the general’s office window, the T-850 sees dozens of automated war weapons actively destroying the base; Judgment Day is underway. The general dies, as Kate and John head for the accelerator. However, the T-850 finds itself reengaged in combat with the T-X. After effectively immobilizing the T-850, the T-X uses its probe-like ‘finger’ to reprogram the machine…

“You really got a hold on me…”
The T-X finds herself inexplicably attracted to the particle accelerator.

In the track of the particle accelerator, John and Kate are surprised to see the T-X reappear, which leads them to believe their protector T-850 has either been stopped or destroyed.  As the T-X chases after them, John somehow activates the accelerator’s magnets, which slows the T-X down, as its metallic body is captured by the overpowering magnetism of the device.  As the T-X’s outer layer of liquid metal is peeled off by the accelerator, a frustrated and exhausted Kate screams, “Just die, you bitch!!” The crafty T-X then activates a hidden cutting tool within its arm to effectively sabotage the accelerator, shorting out the mechanism. Once again, the T-X is freed, but John and Kate are long gone and headed out to the airfield…

Note: Obviously, major liberties are taken in the movie with just how a magnetic particle accelerator works, but this is a movie, not a CERN tourist video. Rather than quibble over a fictional particle accelerator, my bigger question was when did John Connor learn how to activate it?

The Terminator is experiencing a really bad case of HAL-9000.

Emerging from the collider at the base hangar where Brewster’s private plane is stored, Kate and John are in the cockpit, when they see a limping, badly-scarred T-850 headed towards them. John impulsively rushes to help their cyborg ally, but the machine warns him to keep away, as its software has been corrupted by the T-X.  The machine nearly kills John before he convinces it that murdering him will fail its mission. The conflicted T-850 frustratedly smashes the hood of a nearby truck, before shutting down to reboot its systems.  After the T-850 stops in mid-motion, pilot Kate warms up the small plane, as John reluctantly abandons his cyborg friend…

Note: Yes, it’s extremely convenient that Kate knows how to fly her dad’s plane, though not impossible, given her closeness to her dad. Before anyone accuses Kate of being a Mary Sue character, I’m still scratching my head over John somehow managing to activate a particle accelerator by himself. That takes a bit of training, I would imagine…?

John and Kate learn that Crystal Peak isn’t quite the vacation spot the brochure promised. 

Landing at massive hangar doors near the base of Crystal Peak, John and Kate use their access codes to gain entry into the facility, which was hardened to withstand a nuclear attack.  Upon entry, they find dust-covered equipment and vehicles in the hangar.  Wondering if it’s a trap, John carries an armed bomb ready to destroy Skynet’s core.  They soon find an elevator leading underground to the main control facilities.  As they fumble through the codebooks for the access entry codes, the T-X arrives in a helicopter, which it leaps out of before crashing it into the hangar…

Note:  I appreciated that Crystal Peak wasn’t some state-of-the-art facility just waiting for Kate and John’s arrival; it was a dilapidated and largely forgotten site, reminding me of 1970’s “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” when Brett and Nova discover the underground remains of the long-forgotten New York subway system.  It’s in the final act when T3 begins to give off strong, nihilistic, early-1970s sci-fi vibes, like “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1970).

“I am fembot, hear me roar…”

Not to be outdone, the rebooted T-850 arrives in a second helicopter, which it similarly crashes.  Emerging from the wreckage, the scarred T-850 states, “I’m back!”  The T-850 then wedges itself between closing blast doors—leaving just enough space for Kate and John to crawl through into safety.  As John goes after Kate through the halted doors, he says farewell to his future assassin and current friend, who promises “We will meet again!”  John is almost through when the bisected T-X grabs his leg in a viselike grip. The T-850 frees John by pulling the last remaining hydrogen fuel cell from its abdomen and lodging it into the open mouth of the T-X.  The T-850 then announces “You are terminated!” The subsequent blast of the ruptured fuel cell destroys both cybernetic combatants, as John is freed to join Kate…

Note: The novelization of the movie, written by David Hadberg (presumably based on a slightly earlier draft of the screenplay) had the T-850 telling the T-X to “Eat me!” as it shoved the unstable fuel cell into its opponent’s mouth. Personally, I thought “Eat me!” was a more memorable final line than “You are terminated,” though it might’ve been too punny for the somber final scenes of the movie. “You are terminated” is a variation of Sarah Connor’s “You’re terminated” line from “The Terminator,” though Sarah added “f**ker” as an R-rated cherry topping…

John and Kate realize it’s the end of the world as they know it.

Reaching the core level of the Crystal Peak facility, John and Kate see a presidential podium, a bank of outdated analog computers, old radio equipment, a greenhouse and a VIP survival shelter.  The two of them are confused, wondering how Skynet could possibly exist in ancient, early 1970s computer equipment.  Realizing he still has a ticking bomb ready to destroy Skynet, John quickly disarms the device. Kate then faces the dawning realization they weren’t sent here to stop Judgment Day—they were sent here to survive it. As the last best hope for humankind, the two of them were ushered into the safety of Crystal Peak to ensure they would be around after the bombs began to rain nuclear destruction upon the world…

Note: This scene is so bold and surprising that I can forgive the film for a few other sins.

The final images of the movie’s nuclear nightmare are jarring and powerful, in stark contrast with the rest of the film.

Over John’s final narration, we see automated nuclear missiles being fired from hidden silos across the rural plains of the United States, which automatically triggers a Russian counterattack—ensuring the end of the world.  We see nuclear missiles arcing in space, as they crisscross towards their various target packages across the globe. Deadly mushroom clouds bloom everywhere. The camera settles on the destroyed metal skull of the T-850, which is now covered in nuclear ash—its last glowing red eye going dark.  Judgment Day is over, but the war of humanity vs. machine has just begun…

The final images show the Terminator’s skull shrouded in radioactive fallout—it’s red eye fading as Judgment Day falls.

Note: Composer Marco Beltrami (taking over from composer Brad Fiedel) creates some haunting music to accompany the final images of Judgment Day. Instead of a rousing action score, the last moments of the film are infused with a heavy sense of tragedy and mourning, allowing us to feel the loss of our once-living world as it segues into a post-nuclear hellscape.

The End.

Summing It Up

Nick Stahl and Claire Danes give solid performances, though the material lacks the intensity of the previous films.

It’s a shame that actor Nick Stahl’s subsequent personal/legal issues (which I won’t delve into) prevented him from being a breakout star with this film, as he gives a fine performance as the recast John Connor. Claire Danes (“Kathryn Brewster”) was already a TV star from her teen years in 1994’s “My So-Called Life,” and still enjoys a thriving career. Needless to say, Danes does a great job paralleling Sarah Connor’s arc from 1984. Also nice to see the late Earl Boen’s comical cameo as Dr. Silberman from the previous films. Boen passed away on January 5th, 2023 at age 81.

Earl Bone returns as police trauma specialist Dr. Silberman, whose own past experiences leave him unsure of what’s real.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s increasingly comedic role in the franchise reduces his T-850 to a walking Freddy Kruger-style punchline for much of the movie, but he gets the job done. Kristanna Loken as the T-X Terminator is an interesting presence, though her character isn’t nearly as chilling as Robert Patrick’s T-1000, with his unblinking, eagle-like stare. The surprising and questionable lack of diversity within the film’s main cast feels a bit retrograde (even for 2003), but unfortunately, what’s done is done. 

Shall we dance?
The T-X and T-850 are into some strange ‘pair bonding’ rituals.

In an age of safe, crowd-pleasing blockbusters, closing this otherwise average sequel with the end of the world took real courage. T3 reminds me in some ways of the 1970s “Planet of the Apes” sequels (1970-1973), which were generally inferior to the 1968 classic, but which still had enough intriguing ideas to make them worthwhile for fans. 1970’s “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” also had the courage to end the world with its final scene, but that sequel was made in a more downbeat, nihilistic, pre-“Star Wars” age.  In 2003, such a dark ending was a genuine surprise

Not many 21st century crowdpleasers have the guts to end with civilization being wiped out.

Granted, the movie has no real reason to exist beyond making money (the reason for making most movies), but it delivers enough of the goods to entertain an audience. While T3 doesn’t fit well with its arguably worse sequels (or the brilliant “Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV show), this is perfectly okay. No single version of the messy Terminator-multiverse is fully canonical, anyway.  Making sense of Terminator-verse canon is like stapling jello to a wall. 

At the end of the (judgment) day, the movie is a fair sequel, following a standard action movie trajectory at times, but with an unexpectedly dark final act act right out of the 1970s.  As the T-850 might say, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” fulfills its mission.

Where to Watch

“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” is available to rent/purchase on Amazon PrimeVideo, as well as Redbox, AppleTV and Vudu. The movie is also available to purchase on physical media (DVD, BluRay) on Amazon or eBay as well. I still have my 20-year old DVD and it works just fine.

All Images: Warner Bros. C2 Pictures.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    T3 was on TV the other night, so I watched it, and I was surprised just how powerful that ending seems now. I remember being quite underwhelmed by the film when I originally saw it years ago, but its kind of gown on me over the years. It’s the threequil that didn’t quite cut the mustard, but it was bold enough to try and do something different.

    1. I daresay the ending of T3 might be my favorite ending in the entire Terminator franchise; it’s that powerful.

  2. scifimike70 says:

    The reasons for T3 were certainly understandable enough. But for those who appreciated T2 as the best possible ending, myself included in retrospect, I made the firm decision to discontinue viewing more Terminator films. Although I did briefly watch Sarah Connor Chronicles with Lena Headey in a very good performance as Sarah. As a TV series it had enough potential but somehow sadly didn’t last long.

    I suppose my main issue, as I’m sure for many, with T3 was that the Judgment Day war is made to feel so fatefully inevitable. Whereas T2 offered some quite natural hope that Sarah and John had saved humanity from the machines in the more optimistic sense. The demand for movie sequels, whether it may actually come from, may easily influence the creative powers to impose decisions on the characters and story arcs that for the most loyal fans can feel like betrayals. Even if seeing how good Kristanna Loken could be as the first female Terminator was quite understandably one major attraction. But Summer Glau in Sarah Connor Chronicles thankfully had the better chance for flexing her acting muscles as a female Terminator.

    Whether enough fans like T3 or not, certainly in memory of Earl Boen as Dr. Silberman (sadly no longer with us), it earns its place as a reminder of why some sequels may be worth it while other forms of continuation (TV shows, books or comics) can work out better. Thanks for your review.

    1. Much appreciated, Mike.
      And I agree with you about Summer Glau. “Sarah Connor Chronicles” was sooo good! Someday I’ll have to tackle that one as well.

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