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“ The most noticeable change is that the metallic villain in Rise of the Machines is a female android. ”

With some funny punchline about Playboy (NOT!)

Miami Herald: Fans get what they want

Sun 6 Jul 2003 | 00h08 GMT+1

It's natural to be skeptical of a Terminator movie without James Cameron: It's like encountering a Godfather installment without Francis Ford Coppola or a Star Wars picture without George Lucas. The unstoppable android may be Arnold Schwarzenegger's most iconic role, but it was really Cameron's imprint -- his melding of dime store, pulpy sci-fi, apocalyptic fantasies and furious action -- that elevated the first two films into bona fide pop classics.

But the best thing that might have happened to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is that Cameron took a pass. It's painful to watch a filmmaker whose heart just isn't into it reviving a past success for a quick buck (for more on this, see Coppola's Godfather Part III or Lucas' last two Star Wars entries). Besides, the premise of the Terminator films -- in which cyborgs are sent back in time to the present to affect a future war between man and machines -- is malleable and impersonal enough to accommodate a newcomer's vision without feeling sacrilegious.

In Rise of the Machines, director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Breakdown) and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris tinker a bit with the franchise. This is easily the funniest of the Terminator movies (although not, it should be stressed, the lightest). It is also the shortest and most compact. Sarah Connor, the central character previously played by Linda Hamilton, is dead and buried (leukemia). The new human focus is on young adults, played by Nick Stahl (taking over from Edward Furlong as Sarah's son John) and Claire Danes, who have been marked for execution to prevent mankind's victorious uprising in the future.

The most noticeable change is that the metallic villain in Rise of the Machines is a female android (bombshell Kristanna Loken), implying that robot designers in the future must be hoarding faded copies of Playboy. Other than being the best-looking terminator in the series, though, she's no different than the previous models, except that she comes armed with a lot of new, formidable powers (she was designed specifically to wipe out other terminators, making her close to indestructible).

The rest of Rise of the Machines sticks fairly close to the formula Cameron had created, which means lots of chase sequences in which outrageous numbers of cars, buildings, airplanes, fire trucks, city blocks and high-rises are demolished in spectacular fashion. For all its heavy-metal antics, though, there's a simplicity to the movie -- a desire to give the audience exactly what it wants in a stylish, entertaining manner -- that helps overcome the queasy feeling that the movie didn't exactly need to be made. Schwarzenegger, whose career is practically riding on the success of the film, doesn't coast, either: His performance here, dryly comical but never lazy, even achieves an unexpected level of poignancy.

If Rise of the Machines never feels as essential as the first two movies, it doesn't feel like a rip-off, either. It's better than it has any right to be. And the surprising nature of the story's third act demonstrates a seriousness by the filmmakers that is uncommon to sequels. Mostow leaves the door wide open for a fourth Terminator, and, surprisingly, Rise of the Machines doesn't make that seem like such a bad idea.

By Rene Rodriguez
Miami Herald

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