Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
starring Arnold Shwarzenegger
3 1/2 stars

Terminator 3 is meatloaf. That is, if Terminator and Terminator 2 are steak dinners of sci-fi action, T3 is what you get when you chop up all the leftover steak and mashed potatoes, throw in some corn, mush it up and stick it in the microwave. It's not full-on Terminator, but it's like Terminator, it tastes kinda like Terminator.

Arnold is the only one who returned for this one. James Cameron didn't come back, Linda Hamilton didn't come back, and weirdly, even Edward Furlong, who played John Connor in T2, didn't come back, or maybe wasn't asked back.

This time, the guy behind the wheel is Jonathan Mostow, who made a pretty functional little submarine movie, U-571, that did a pretty good job of hitting all the major generic submarine movie beats. Here he does the pretty much the same thing, except it's generic Terminator movie beats rather than generic submarine movie beats. In fact, most of the story moments will be familiar to anybody who's seen a Terminator movie; at times they even riff on it, pulling a jokey twist on the old naked-Terminator-walks-into-an-isolated-country-and-western bar bit, fer instance.

The trailers for T3 give the impression that it's a rather uni-dimensionally augmented version of Terminator 2, and the trailers don't lie. The basic action ideas are the same --fancy new Terminators with weird new abilities, fancy new Terminators running after cars, fancy new Terminators driving big vehicles trying to run down smaller vehicles-- but there's no hint of the Terminator drama, the Terminator character progression, the Terminator metaphors that line up so movingly… in other words, the things that made the first 2 Terminator films good movies and not just big action blowouts.

Still, on the basic chase-boom-crash level, T3 has some zing. The big centrepiece chase, crane v. car, wrecks a lot of stuff. And these are actual physical stunt cars and stunt cranes they're tossing around here, smashing and thundering through objects and places the filmmakers actually built rather than just drew on a computer. Sure, we're not seeing anything conceptually different from the T-1000 thundering an 18-wheeler down the L.A. river after a frantically dirt-biking John Connor, but T3 stages its action big and that huge swinging crane does some nice damage as it tears down the street.

And, of course, there's no shortage of robot-on-robot action, Arnie doing battle not only with the T-X, a chick Terminator who can turn her arm into a big laser gun, but also with an assortment of pre-Skynet hunter-killer bots, Terminator versions of Robocop's Ed-209. Certainly, the makers of T3 weren't shy about borrowing ideas from all forms of Terminator media; there are scenes where our heroes blast away at hunter-killer bots for 15 seconds before they go down in exactly the way we used to have to do it in the old Terminator arcade game in 1992.

Worthy of some attention is Kristanna Loken, who plays TX. As Robert Patrick knows, playing the slick, evil non-Arnie Terminator is all about arch glances and looking real cool and controlled right up to, during and after the moment you punch your fist through somebody's chest. Loken has this down, and let's face it, she's pretty hot; she can punch her fist through my chest *any time*.

Like many "3" movies --Robocop 3, Jurassic Park 3, Alien 3-- Terminator 3 is something of a step backward in scale and ambition, mostly retreading stuff we responded to in the first films in somewhat chunkier, cheaper-seeming ways. So, if we liked the "I'll be back" and "Hasta la Vista" lines from Terminator 2, in T3 we get gags and goofy one-liners that riff off those old jokes. It's not the same as building humor out of character like the previous films, but it's a reasonable substitute. 

And that's what Terminator 3 is; a reasonable, similar-tasting substitute, not offensively bad, consumable on its own silly level. Just like meatloaf.