In Defense of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web

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In Defense of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
In Defense of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web
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With the pending release of Terminator: Dark Fate (like it's literally releasing hours from where I am currently sitting and typing), I felt compelled to write about an entry to the series that has gotten a ton of hate over the years. Now, let's be honest here; the entire franchise has failed to live up to its first two entries, and I highly doubt that this latest effort will be any different. But to be fair, T2 really is a fantastic film of its own, and it left such a massive shadow that it's probably impossible for anything attached to it to actually stand out from behind that shadow.

But with all the sequels and spin-offs (The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a spin-off right?), I personally think that T3 gets the most 'undeserved' amount of hate. Unlike with my last 'In Defense Of' writing, which did contain what I feel are legitimate points to backup my claim (Picard's actions were absolutely consistent with established Federation Cannon, and Admiral Dougherty's actions were absolutely inconsistent with established Federation Cannon, and I think I proved that with as close to 'facts' as fiction can allow), this perspective is completely, 100% opinion. I have nothing to back this up, other than my own opinions and feelings. So take it for what it's worth; another smelly asshole, I mean, opinion.

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Now, before I get into this, I just want to say that it is not my goal to prop this film up as 'great'; it definitely has flaws and could have been so much better. But in my opinion, it is absolutely the best Terminator movie after T2, and more importantly, it was an entry that was actually needed. It also should have severed as the closing chapter to the entire franchise, outside of a full blow reboot (which would be pointless, but hey, Hollywood).

For the most part, I would say that the entirety of my point boils down to one basic thought; Judgment Day needed to happen in the Terminator franchise. As much as I absolutely love the first two movies, and I do, the ending of T2 has always gnawed at my brain in a way that has always rubbed me wrong, and that's without the ultimate happy ended James Cameron wanted. Even with the semi ambiguous ending that the studio demanded in hopes of leaving the door open for sequels (because, Hollywood, or $$$), the possibility of a happy ending, that Judgment Day was prevented, just made my head implode.

Basically, my problem is this; paradox.

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The machines send back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor because her son John grows up to lead the resistance, and the resistance basically won. The resistance finds out about this, and sends back their own protector to stop the Terminator. This 'protector' (Kyle Reese) ends up being the father of John, which is of itself a kind of paradox, but a paradox that I personally can live with; it's known as a predestination paradox, or a Causal Loop. Basically a person traveling through time ends up kicking off events that caused them to go back in time to begin with (I'm totally paraphrasing, and probably butchering that, but it's the basic gist).

This kind of paradox commands that the future actions of a person are also established history, because it was always meant to happen (sort of, again, butchering).

The way that the first film plays out is perfectly in line with this kind of theory (because yes, Time Travel itself is just theoretical). However, T2, and its ending, absolutely break that continuity and create another kind of paradox, one that just does not sit well in my brain (at least).

In T2, the machines send back yet another Terminator, this time set to kill John himself, and the resistance sends back yet another protector to stop that Terminator. That in of itself is all fine and good. However, in the process of events that take place, Sarah and John (and their protector) also do their best to erase the possibility of the machines being created in the first place, and therefore erasing Judgment Day itself. The original ending shows this as absolutely happening, but the theatrical (studio demanded) ending leaves it kind of open. But even the possibility that Judgment Day was averted creates a whole new kind of paradox.

I've tried writing this several times, step by step, and it just ends up a jumbled mess in an endless loop that keeps resetting after going through two different timelines happening simultaneously. But the bottom line is this; without Judgment Day, there can be no John Connor, nor can there be the badass Sarah Connor of T2. John can't exist if Kyle Reese isn't sent back in time to 'couple' with Sarah, and the only Sarah that can exist is the kind of 'wallflower Sarah' of the opening to the original Terminator.

I personally hate the endless loop that has played out in my head since first watching T2 back in theaters in 1991. I love the movie, don't get me wrong, but it really has always bugged me because of that. T3, at the very, very least, fixes that loop and puts everything back on track. And I will fully admit that the first time I watched T3, I did not enjoy it while actively watching it. I sat there through so many things I did not enjoy and I was fully prepared to wash my hands of it, and then the final moments played out, at which point I actually bolted straight up, started clapping my hands and screamed out "THANK YOU!"

T3 plays out with basically the exact same premise of the other two films; the machines send back a Terminator to kill a future resistance leader before the war even starts, and the resistance sends a lone protector. They even try and present the same subplot of the previous film, with our 'heroes' trying to prevent Judgment Day from happening in the first place, again. However, in the final moments of the film, while our heroes go on what they think will be the final leg of their journey to stop Judgment Day, they find out it was all a ruse, that they were sent where they were not to prevent Judgment Day, but to survive Judgment Day. Judgment Day is INEVITABLE.

And as the bombs drop on screen, the timeline is set back to where it was from the very beginning (though some dates are now different) and all is restored.

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This ending saved not only T3 in my eyes, but the entire franchise (at that point). Have you ever watched a film that was mediocre at best, but had such a fantastic ending that it made the whole damned thing better? That is T3 for me (same with The Game, but that's a whole different movie).

Now, even to this day there are things about it I do not like. I do not like the forced (and lame) comedy, and there is a lot of it. I do not like the long over-stayed action sequences. I do not like that Sarah Conner was killed off screen. I do not like that John Connor was recast. I do not like that the bulk of the film is just the same exact plot as the previous two films adding nothing new to like 90% of the story. I do not like how the new Terminator brings very little new to the antagonists except gender (more or less). Finally, I REALLY hated that moment where the female Terminator does that 'dial-up modem' thing with her mouth through the phone (man, that really was dumb).

But the ending itself does, in my opinion, make up for everything that came before it (in T3 specifically) due to its fixing of the timeline, because I cannot stress this enough, Judgment Day HAD TO HAPPEN. And really, even with all that it still fails at, it actually does have other good aspects outside of the bigger picture of the franchise.

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While I maintain that the bulk of the 'comedy' is lame as hell, there are still at least some humorous moments that are effective. Like where John tells Arnie to explain to Kate who his is is really funny in my opinion. As is the moment where they are in the RV, trying to come to grips with what is happening, and Arnie says something about their levity is good for them because it takes their mind off impending death (or something to that effect); gold! Nick Stah does a good enough job in his roll as the new John Connor (sure, he's not Edward Furlong but oh well), Arnie is Arnie (outside of the lame humor attempts like 'Talk to the hand') and Claire Danes is actually pretty fantastic in this movie (she's a highly underrated actor in my opinion).

Over all, it isn't great; it's not breaking new ground other than its ending (though the first Terminator basically implies the same ending in a way), but given the implications of a 'happy ending' for T2, I honestly think that this movie is more than justified in its existence and it IS about a billion times better than Salvation or Jenny-Smith in my opinion.

I will also say that as much as I did not enjoy the film's first 90% my first time through, I will also admit that subsequent viewings did improve significantly to a point where if I do watch the first two, I absolutely will finish off the trilogy, every. Single. Time. I can also honestly say that even though it does not live up to its predecessors (which probably wasn't going to happen anyway), it IS still enjoyable on its own over all.

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If you haven't watched T3 in a while, and/or you have only seen it once (or not at all), I strongly suggest you give it another try soon (preferably while capping off the first two) and try not to compare it too much to the first two entries.

One could easily argue that the entire franchise should have never been a 'franchise' in the first place; the first movie really was all that was needed, and even T2 doesn't really break new ground in the most generic of 'story' related ways. But I will always argue that T2 is just so damned fantastic that I don't care if it stretches out a single story and also opens up a needless franchise. Hell, the demand for mores sequels wouldn't even be there if T2 wasn't as good as it was in my opinion. And I will ALWAYS argue for T3 being necessary.

After that however? Yeah, they really should have stopped with T3.

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