“This is the day of reckoning. Out of the ashes of our world will rise a new generation of Terminators designed to annihilate the human race, and our last hope in the war against machines will be one of them.”

Ohmigod. Who would have known a few months ago that this would turn out to be anything more than a purely money-driven lackluster sequel? Maybe I’m a hopeless Schwarzenegger fanboy, maybe I’m too paranoid about the repercussions W. Bush’ warmongering will have and this end-of-the-world stuff hits too close to my mindset… I don’t know, but coming out of “Rise of the Machines” I must say that it blew my mind!

“Judgment day, the end of the world, it’s today, three hours from now. It’s the machines, THEY’RE TAKING OVER.”

There’s this retro B-movie feel, fatalist science-fiction undertones right out of Cold War era anticipation flicks and I looove it. I’m not quite ready to proclaim this to be the best TERMINATOR flick but I do reckon it to be a more than worthy third chapter in the series. Is it perfect? Nah, but I could also bitch about the dated FX of the first film or the preachiness of T2. One thing’s for sure, this is much more exciting and thought-provoking than the overblown pretentious messes that were The Matrix Reloaded and Hulk.

I’m a lifelong Schwarzenegger fan, and there’s no denying that the Terminator is his defining character. To see him appear in a ball of lightning, naked, once again looking to get himself some leather clothes and sunglasses… I was grinning like an idiot, and this kept happening all through the film. That’s another thing, even though the stakes are impossibly high, there’s still place for humor here. No one takes himself too seriously, certainly not Arnold, who’s more than willing to poke fun at himself and at his character.

Edward Furlong isn’t back to reprise his role as John Connor, GOOD! Whiney little bitch nearly ruined T2, and he’s not half the actor that Nick Stahl is. Connor is now older, somewhat wiser, certainly more solemn and driven. He’s accepted his destiny, even though the planned time for Judgment Day came and passed already. Connor is still on the run, living “off the grid”, waiting for the nightmarish future where he’s supposed to rise as a great leader, even though he’s not sure whether it will come to be. He’s a tragic figure, and Stahl embodies this more effectively than Furlong could ever have.

It’s a bit odd that Linda Hamilton is missing, as Sarah Connor was the protagonist of the first two pictures, but we can still feel her through this film. After all, she’s the one who trained John and tried to make him ready for what he must now face. Furthermore, the addition of the always wonderful Claire Danes to the cast kinda makes up for Hamilton’s absence. She plays Kate Brewster, an ordinary veterinarian who knew John as a kid and now finds herself in this apocalyptic mess with him. It’s a strong character that’s key to the events to come, and the interaction between her and Connor makes the movie all the more involving.

Another missing player is Terminator creator James Cameron, who wrote and directed the previous episodes, but I feel Jonathan Mostow is every bit as brilliant an action filmmaker as Cameron ever was. “T3” is a riveting ride always rushing forward, like Mostow’s greatish “Breakdown” but with ten times the budget. Instead of rednecks, the antagonists here are high-tech robots such as the one played by Kristanna Loken, one gorgeously badass villain! The T-X is one deadly piece of work, who can not only morph into anything and repair herself at will but also control other machines. This leads to breathtakingly large-scaled scenes of mass destruction, like the epic early chase that levels whole city blocks, and to ruthless metal-to-metal fights with Schwarzenegger’s “obsolete design”.

“Terminator 3” is not all that “deep” or “artistic”, but it doesn’t really try to be. All that Mostow is out to make is the coolest damn summer blockbuster you could wish for, and damn it if he didn’t deliver! “Rise of the Machines” is non-stop action with amazing special effects but, most importantly, a real sense of urgency and non-stop thrills. It feels old school, all violent and badass and uncompromising, like movies used to be before studios started second-guessing every move (“Mkay, let’s tone this down to PG-13 so we can make more money”). That Danes and Stahl manage to infuse heart and soul into their characters, that there is interesting talk about fate and destiny and that the ending unexpectedly brings a huge emotional payoff that ties the whole trilogy together, that’s just icing on the cake.

And they even borrow a one-liner from Commando!

“You said you’d let me go!”
“I lied.”