Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003): Jonathan Mostow

(Movie trailer voice): After Judgment Day came and went, they tried Y2K. When that didn’t work, they tried going back in time, again, to the future, of the first two times they tried it.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Now an off-the-grid adult, John Connor, future leader of the human resistance against murderous Skynet, faces one more attempt on his life from a future terminator. 

Hero (1/10)

With 1997’s prophesied Judgment Day passing with a whimper, John Connor (Nick Stahl) should be safe. But he doesn’t feel safe.

“There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” John says as he narrates the opening of Terminator 3. That’s a nice sentiment, but John doesn’t believe it. He lives off the grid and still dreams of a hellish future of skull fields and squads of terminators blasting lasers across a nuclear-ruined California.

Good thing he kept running, because one night John crashes his bike on a hill road and needs meds. John breaks into an animal clinic and steals an epilepsy barbiturate called phenobarbitol, tries to self medicate, and passes out for his efforts.

John wakes up when Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) enters the building and finds the drug cabinet smashed into. She tries to call 911, John threatens her with a paintball gun, she disarms him and throws him in a kennel, and next thing they know, a deadly machine from the future is driving them through the desert, protecting them from a deadlier killing machine from the future.

John and Kate plus 8…million bullets shot at them.

John Connor is again the target of a back-in-time attack by a terminator, this time the most advanced killing machine Skynet has made. John and Kate discover that each time they meet a terminator shows up to kill one of them.

Their chance meeting in a California animal hospital triggers the arrival of T-X (Kristanna Loken). The villain is tasked with killing John’s chief lieutenants in the coming war, because Skynet had no record of John’s whereabouts in 2003.

According to the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) John is scheduled to marry and procreate with Kate at a later time. Oh, also, Kate’s father controls Skynet, and will cause the overthrow of human civilization in a few days. John believes, for most of the movie, that Skynet has a central mainframe, that it can be destroyed by a couple of do-gooders with C4.

John is mostly along for the ride in Terminator 3. He learns much about his past and future life, while Terminator and Kate do most of the fighting. More scared tweaker than seasoned road vet, Nick Stahl doesn’t have the gravitas of someone who’s lived a life of crushed expectation.

The above statements are problematic for the movie. John Connor doesn’t do much.

Villain (5/10)

Bad Terminators are always the least expressive of the machines, and Kristanna Loken is no exception. She plays T-X, the most baddest killing machine yet to roll off of a Skynet assembly line.

T-X arrives in Beverly Hills, naked, as per usual for terminators, and in need of clothes and a car. It kills a woman immediately and, most importantly, changes its hair do. T-X arrives with a wavy, just-showered look and converts that to a tight bun, which is much more menacing.

The NRA’s wet dream: turning your actual arm into an arm.

T-X is part T-1000, part T-8oo. It has a liquid exterior, and also a machinated arm that converts to plenty of useful tools, most of them extremely lethal. T-X also can remotely control other machines, using this feature early and often.

T-1000 is one of cinema’s most terrifying villains, so Loken has her work cut out for her following Robert Patrick’s act. She does a fine job, but is hindered by her red alligator power suit outfit. Compared to T-1000’s police uniform, there’s no contest; it’s hard to fear a Talbot’s outfit chasing you.

Wardrobe aside, T-X is scary as shit. That right arm turns into several scary weapons, the worst being a saw used to execute Kate’s fiancé. T-X also punches through a cop’s seat as he drives, and the machine drives the car through the cop’s torso. This villain is sadistic.

Terminator describes T-X as “a far more effective killing machine,” an anti-terminator terminator. Therein lies T-X’s problem–overconfidence (if a machine can possess such an emotion).

Several times T-X disposes of Terminator, only does not see the machine dead. Terminator comes back to ruin T-X’s plans time and again, eventually killing the screaming machine hulk outside the Crystal Peak bunker, proving that T-X lacked the greatest power an intelligence can have–the power to learn.

Action/Effects (5/10)

When Skynet finally awakens, Judgment Day gets muuuuuch closer.

The Pentagon orders Kate’s dad to put Skynet in control of the military. There’s a virus running through global networks, causing problems with communication networks. Whatever it is, the virus is changing like it has “a mind of its own.” Well, that’s exactly right, tech engineer #2 Chris Hardwick. To the dad’s credit, he’s reluctant and downright opposed to activating Skynet.

A brief action scene

T-X, meanwhile, is activating the original T-1 units housed under plastic in a cargo bay. When that’s done, T-X sprints toward the command center, disguised as Kate.

After becoming self-aware, Skynet needs less than a minute to unfurl its talons into the worldwide US defense grid, hacking, clawing and weaving through firewalls and all other security systems.

Kate’s dad realizes he’s endangered everyone moments before he watches his daughter get shot and moments before his shot daughter turns into T-X and shoots him. Let’s unpack that for a moment. Here’s a guy in his 50s, who’s lived a fine life in service of his country, and hopes to watch his daughter marry in a few months.

Then, on a sunny afternoon, he endures nearly the final 10 seconds of his life. In those 10 seconds he watches his daughter shot to death. That could kill a father, just seeing that. Next, he watches as his daughter transforms into a silver humanoid and then a different woman. This woman holds a gun and shoots him. Before all this, he watched as Skynet, his program, undercut the US defense network. Now, he didn’t know what happened, but certainly he thought, as we all do when first confronted with a problem we’ve caused, the very worst, that he had single-handedly fucked the United States military. He probably discounted that thought, but that’s exactly what he did. Destroy your country, watch your daughter shot, and get shot–has anyone ever had a worse 10 seconds?

Back to the movie. Terminator unloads grenades into T-X, knocking it into a deep shaft. The grenades do not explode, but they give a satisfying thunk as they strike the liquid metal.

John informs Kate’s dad that Skynet is the virus, and Terminator states that in one hour it will launch a massive nuclear strike against its enemies. What enemies? “Us,” John says. “Humans.”

Meanwhile, those primitive T-1 units are gunning down innocent techies. The T-1s, small tanks with gatling guns for arms, blast away the offices. Terminator leads the three humans toward an office to get some access codes. Along the way Terminator dispatches two tank units by stealing the gatling gun of one and unloading it into the other.

Outside the office, John and Kate (dad’s dead) run from T-X. Terminator has an empty gun, and it opts for a large gas canister, which it smacks into T-X’s face. T-X takes the beating like it’s nothing, again underestimating Terminator’s skills. T-X kicks Terminator into the floor, cracking floor tiles.

They crash into a bathroom. I love me a good bathroom fight, and two machines smashing porcelain into each other constitutes that. Water sprays like a fountain as Terminator shoves T-X into all the marble walls that Department of Defense money can buy. T-X again takes the beating, until it pushes Terminator once to send the old unit 30 feet through the air.

T-X eventually grabs Terminator by the balls and crashes it head first through several walls. They fall through a floor into a mechanic shop. T-X blasts the flamethrower to Terminator’s face, melting half of it, while Terminator jabs an exposed wire into T-X’s neck. The two blast apart from each other, the least mutually attractive couple in film history. Terminator lands on its back, T-X snaps its head half off, and then, with the slightest hint of a smile, tries a corruption trick to override its commands.

John and Kate navigate a hallway until they find a flying drone leering at them. The drone fires two rockets that overshoot the ducking couple, and it tracks thermal imaging to the explosion sight. Kate recognizes that it will turn back, and when it does she takes up an AK-47 and unloads a clip into it. She looks great doing it. John gets all wet for her because she reminds him of his mother, which is the movie’s grossest moment.


T-X is an effects-laden character of liquid metal over a hard skeleton. The right arm is a terrific, multifaceted weapon. Having said that, I’m not sure the effects are much of an upgrade from Terminator 2. That’s 11 years of not doing much better, and that’s a problem.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Kate Brewster is the one person most annoyed by this terminator weirdness. The movie begins with her reluctantly selecting china with her fiancé and talking to her negligent father on the phone. A few hours later she’s locked in back of her own company truck, kidnapped by a killing machine from the future and a junior high dropout she once made out with.

Also, the most advanced assassin ever made wants her dead. Consdiering the mental and physical beating Kate takes during Terminator 3, she comes out of the movie in great shape. In a 24-hour period Kate is kidnapped, shot at, gassed, learns she will have children with a loser, learns her fiancé is murdered, watches her father die, and survives a nuclear attack thanks to a talking robot father figure.

That someone could endure even one of those things marks good character. That Kate survives them all in one day marks a legend. That’s exactly what the movie claims she will be, so her tough demeanor is acceptable.

To terminate John Connor, or not to terminate John Connor?

Kate is feisty from moment one. She disarms John and shoots him with a paintball gun when she finds he’s stolen animal drugs. She tells Terminator to “drop dead.” Terminator answers that he is unable to comply. First chance she gets she swipes a gun and shoots Terminator in the mouth. When he spits out the slug, she starts believing all this future poppycock. When she sees her fiancé transform into T-X, she accepts Terminator’s and John’s insane story.

Kate knows her father can help with their problems. Except he can’t. He’ll be responsible, and that’s exactly what Skynet intended. Maybe. I think. Hard to say what Skynet knows.

Kate is mostly along for the ride, both with and without her consent. Later, after her father dies, she picks up a gun and starts fighting back, shooting down a Skynet drone with a machine gun. That’s when John tells her she reminds of his mother, which is really gross because they know they are destined to bone later.

From angry kidnap victim to full-fledged member/founder of the Resistance, Kate Brewster lives perhaps the most eventful and emotionally scarring day in human history. Luckily, she’s up for the job.

John’s other sidekick is, of course, Terminator. Terminator 3 was Arnold’s last major role before running California as its governor. Arnold made nearly $30 million upfront, plus about 20% of earnings back end, in a deal that was, and remains, one of Hollywood’s most lucrative in history. These two facts helped make Arnold’s 2003 one of the most successful years that any person has ever had. Period. I do not believe that to be hyperbolic.

About the movie; it’s Arnold. You know what you’re getting with Arnold as Terminator, and he delivers. The naked-crouch-in-a-time-bubble is still an awesome intro. And Arnold still nails the robotic scan of the ground after arriving in what year it he arrives in.

As awesome as it looks

The Resistance upgraded this Terminator model with some humor. Terminator crushes a pair of Elton John-style sunglasses in favor of classic black. Terminator knows T-X is far superior, but it has a job it’s programmed to do, and it will blast away with a shotgun at anything that prevents him from doing that, dammit.

And what is Terminator’s job? Not to stop Judgment Day, but to ensure John and Kate survive it. John believes otherwise for the entire movie, because he was raised that way, and Terminator lets him believe it without outright lying to him.

In the end, Terminator gives its life to protect John and Kate. That was its mission.

Henchmen (1/8)

T-X has no backup, but it gets help in the climax after the humans allow Skynet to take over the Defense Department intranet. Some cool Skynet prototypes stalk the halls of where Kate’s dad ushers in Judgment Day.

It’s only a dream, or is it?

Stunts (3/6)

T-X has the skills to control machinery from a distance, and it shows that off in spectacular fashion in suburban Los Angeles.

Terminator shows up in time to prevent T-X from crushing Kate’s neck when it drives the red-clad killing machine into the animal hospital. This being the Terminator franchise, the truck crash results in a massive explosion.

The cops and fire department arrives on scene long enough for the T-X to hack all their vehicles and for Terminator to steal a police bike the old-fashioned way, by throwing its driver off.

T-X chooses the largest vehicle on the lot to drive, a Champion crane truck with “Wide Load” painted on the front. It’s about to get much wider.

John drives the battered PetDoc2 as far from the clinic as he can. T-X guides a phalanx of police cars and a small fire engine after him, smashing and bashing the truck to pieces, one chink of metal at a time. John doesn’t even have a door to protect him. His only protection is Terminator.

T-X is not far behind with the crane truck, and when it sees John it uses two cop cars to make a truck sandwich. John is an expert crisis driver, and he helps maneuver T-X to crash into a truck carrying, of all things, gas canisters. Oh, you can bet that they explode.

John drives on the sidewalk. T-X uses the giant crane arm to smash, turning the arm 90 degrees. The truck and its crane arm smash everything on the straight block: cars, electric wire poles, anything that can be sent up, is. The destruction is enormous and nearly unbelievable but for the truck’s size.

Terminator finally catches up after leaping the bike over a downed pole. Not sure how it achieved that. Terminator shotguns two tries on the crane truck just as T-X was winding up a shot from its Swiss Army Arm Gun. T-X swings the hook at the end of the crane arm into Terminator, who clutches for dear life, kicking over an ambulance on the way.

The chase enters a neighborhood of green lawns. T-X swings the crane arm into as much as it can. More light poles drop, as does the front of an office building after Terminator crashes through it. T-X actually tips the crane truck on its side as it makes a tight turn, failing to lose Terminator.

Until Terminator hits the front of an oncoming fire truck. Tossing and scaring the firefighters out of the cab, Terminator declares, “I’ll drive.”

T-X crashes the truck through a concrete wall to rejoin the chase yards behind John. Terminator, in the fire engine, trails the crane truck, and makes a couple of swipes into it, trying to shove it off the road. T-X takes a shot at the fire truck, exploding it, moments after Terminator leaps onto the crane truck.

T-X almost has a surprised look on its face as Terminator shows up in the passenger’s side of the cab. Using an axe, Terminator flicks T-X onto the road, though it immediately latches onto the rear wheels. Terminator sights a sewer grate and drops the crane hook into it. As the cable unravels Terminator leaps onto John’s truck roof, nearly crushing Kate inside.

The crane truck does a huge front flip as T-X is outwitted. Terminator drives away safely.

Climax (2/6)

After a huge fight at Skynet headquarters, if you want to call it that, Terminator directs John and Kate to flee to Crystal Peak, their only chance.  Even though Terminator has shown it can lie, it does not lie in this case. John is convinced the Skynet central core will be there and can be destroyed.

Kate finds her father’s plane and flies it to Crystal Peak, which is actually a desert peak without any crystal on it. Slowly the pair scrambles into the bunker.

Big-ass bunker door

Meanwhile, Terminator has shut down. Like any computer, sometimes it has to reboot to get its circuits right. Terminator does that, having overridden the T-X programming that tried to get it to kill John.

T-X did a good job tracking its quarry. As John and Kate mess around at Crystal Peak trying to open the blast door, T-X crashes a helicopter through the front door. Not long after, Terminator crashes an even bigger helicopter into T-X, nearly killing them in a firestorm, and yet another case of the more advanced model underestimating the older version.

Half of Terminator’s face is gone, a metaphor for its corrupted nature. T-X, meanwhile, has lost its human skin appearance, because that’s scary. It also squeals like a stuck hog and is missing its legs.

The large blast door is closing, and it’s the only way into the mountain for the characters. Terminator holds it open long enough for the humans to crawl through. There’s plenty of rubble and sparks falling everywhere. T-X scrapes its way toward Terminator. The old machine has one last trick up its sleeve; I mean it has one last trick in its torso.

Terminator’s flaw in its design proves its best weapon against the better model. Terminator removes the last, damaged fuel cell and puts it in the T-X’s mouth. The blast disrupts thousands of tons of the mountain above, and vaporizes the only two machines of the future, or, as we’ll see, of the current century.

The humans are safe enough to descend several floors in a creaky elevator that discharges them into a space-race era command room. Dust and cobwebs abound. John is eager to destroy the Skynet mainframe with the ticking bomb, until realization slowly dawns on him. “There’s nothing here,” he shouts, shoving over an ancient computer. “Why did he lead us down here?” John asks.

“To live,” Kate says. “That was his mission.”

Ancient electronics

John and Kate debate letting the bomb explode. Who wants to live in a machine-driven hell-scape anyway? Suddenly, a massive radio crackles to life. Scared people nationwide are calling in, asking for guidance. Only John and Kate are there to answer the call. Several men radio Crystal Peak for help. After John answers, one asks him who’s in charge there. “I am,” John whimpers. The hero is made.

As the missiles criss-cross the planet and the mushroom clouds bloom, John narrates that he understands his fate now. His destiny was not to stop Judgment Day, but to survive it. That’s a damn bleak ending, and I dig it. Is it a happy one? Depends on how much or little you narrow your observation.

Jokes (1/4)

Terminator 3 lays it on thick in the early going. You know this will be a laugh riot. Arnold lands in the present day in a time bubble, just as the first two times he played Terminator. He’s naked, as before, and needs clothes. To find them he heads to the nearest establishment out in the desert, a country bar.

Terminator comes to the entrance nude, and you expect the bouncer to say “What the hell?” and get punched in the face, or some such nonsense. Instead, he tells Terminator to go around back. Turns out it’s ladies’ night at the bar, and the entertainment is nude male dancing. LOL.

Elton John glasses, not intimidating enough.

Terminator, still nude, walks onto the stage, where a stripper is mad at him and tells him to “talk to the hand.” Terminator literally talks to his hand. Yuck yuck yuck. Later, Terminator tells some dope to talk to his hand. This machine can learn.

Thankfully, that’s about the extent of the comedy. I love Arnold, but he can lay it on thick sometimes, and Terminator 3 was in danger of that.

Setting (/4)

Southern California is again home to the Connor family and his future family. An adult John talks about always being on the run, staying off the grid, going where he can. He only stays off the grid in SoCal, however. The idea of living in Idaho or Wisconsin too abhorrent for a born-and-bred Californian.

Once Terminator gets hold of John and Kate, they have to leave the area, eventually finding a new home at an old fallout shelter/emergency communications base in the Sierra Nevada.

Commentary (0/2)

John Connor: “Our destiny wasn’t to stop Judgment Day. It was to survive it.”

Offensiveness (0/-2)

They dun put a wuhmen in as uh terminader!


  • The movie’s best image is of Sarah Connor’s coffin being full of weapons. Not even a nice, organized case of weapons like an assassin’s might be, just a pile of random shit.

    Sarah Connor was actually a pile a guns.
  • (3) Automatic Arnold bonus

Summary (27/68): 40%

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines should have ended the series. Instead, they did one without Arnold (huh?), and a terrible alternate-timeline one with Arnold (d’oh). This movie isn’t bad, it simply fails to do anything new, unlike its classic, legendary predecessors.