In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, just as in T2 a dozen years ago, the original T-1 killer cyborg from the future, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, does battle on the streets of Los Angeles with an updated, sleeker, deadlier model.
Last time, you may recall, it was the T-1000, played with metallic sangfroid by Robert Patrick. Now, in an apparent concession to the turbo-feminist lad-mag action-movie times, the state-of-the-art killer cyborg from the future is the T-X, who touches down on Rodeo Drive in the arresting and unclothed form of Kristanna Loken, and who goes about her subsequent business in a red leather pantsuit and a silver Lexus coupe.
The old-model Terminator, delivering his weary one-liners in that familiar Austro-Californian monotone, has his hands full with this limber, ruthless new machine, who has been sent back in time, as Schwarzenegger was in the first Terminator movie, to kill off the future leaders of human resistance to machine tyranny.
This movie must struggle with its own potential obsolescence. The first instalment in the franchise, directed by James Cameron and starring Linda Hamilton along with Schwarzenegger, is nearly 20 years old; its sequel was released when the current president's father was in the White House. The rapid evolution of special-effects technology since then, and the concurrent spread of multi-sequel blockbuster franchises, give those influential pictures a decidedly antique aura.
In part because of the example of Terminator 2, which was a pioneer in the use of computer-animated imagery in a live-action setting, sci-fi action movies have become ever more visually elaborate -- and also more pretentious. Next to the baroque postmodern pseudo-sophistication of the Matrix movies, which similarly explore the fate of humanity under threat of machine dominance, the new Terminator has a lumbering, literal-minded old-style feel.
TERMINATOR 3: Rise of the Machines
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Nick Stahl (John Connor), Claire Danes (Kate Brewster), David Andrews (Robert Brewster) and Kristanna Loken (T-X)
Running time: 109 minutes
Taiwan Release: yesterday
Which is not, on balance, such a bad thing. Cameron has long since ascended from action auteur to king of the world, leaving his dueling robots and their human prey in the hands of Jonathan Mostow. Mostow's previous film was U-571, a highly competent exercise in that squarest of all action subgenres, the submarine movie. And if he lacks Cameron's unusual gift for finding human drama amid all the explosions, chases and collisions, Mostow does at least film the explosions, chases and collisions with professionalism and something like wit.
Though not, it must be said, with brevity. On my way into the screening room I was heartened to hear that the movie's running time was a relatively brisk 109 minutes. But the first big highway screech-and-bang sequence -- a big-wheeled menage a trois with the good Terminator in a fire engine, the bad Terminatrix behind the wheel of a construction crane and the poor human afterthoughts in a swaybacked Toyota Tundra -- felt at least that long.
Afterward, if your auditory nerves have not sustained permanent damage, you will hear some necessary explanations, which complete the epic voice-over of the opening scenes. The heroic resistance of Sarah Connor (Hamilton) in T2 did not prevent the apocalyptic ascent of the techno overlords, but only postponed it. Now, Sarah's son, John (Nick Stahl), the prophesied leader of the human resistance, is living "off the grid," haunted by nightmarish visions of global catastrophe.