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Review: 'Terminator 3' worth the wait

New tale builds on previous films

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

"I'll be back," he said, and so he is: Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

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(CNN) -- "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is darker and slicker than its predecessors, 1984's "The Terminator" and 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," both directed and co-written by James Cameron. It also contains hundreds, if not thousands, more computer-generated images than either of those movies.

However, unlike some other high-tech flicks, the effects don't completely overpower the plot or take the audience totally out of the story -- at least, most of the time.

John Connor, played this time by Nick Stahl (best known for his role opposite Marisa Tomei in 2001's Oscar-nominated "In the Bedroom"), is now 22 years old and living "off the grid." He has no home, phone, job, or credit cards. There is no record of his existence.

But Skynet, the evil computer system that created the Terminators in the first two movies, is still in place, and still looking for him. Judgment Day still looms ... though it's been pushed back a bit. (In the first two movies, humanity was supposed to have been nearly wiped out in 1997. We obviously survived that -- but 2029, the Year of Darkness in which Skynet created the first Terminator, is still to come.)

A job to do

Kristanna Loken plays the T-X, the latest Terminator to come after John Connor.

Out of the future comes T-X, the most relentless -- and babe-a-licious -- killing machine ever made, played by newcomer Kristanna Loken. She's come back to finish the job her cyborg predecessors had left uncompleted in the first two installments of the saga.

But this time, she has more than Connor on her cyborg "to do" list. T-X's secondary target is veterinarian Kate Brewster, played by Claire Danes. Unbeknownst to them, Kate and John are connected in the future and both must survive to save the world from being taken over by machines.

The T-101, a replica of the original Terminator -- once again played by Schwarzenegger -- comes back to protect them from the new, sophisticated T-X. The only thing standing between the machines and the fall of civilization as we know it is the iconic Terminator complete with leather jacket, leather boots and dark sunglasses.

The fast-paced script by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian advances the story well and increases the tension and emotions. They've also infused the story with wit, and Schwarzenegger seems to be having fun kidding around with his Terminator image.

More bells and whistles

Danes, Stahl
Claire Danes and Nick Stahl in "T3."

With the first two films Cameron not only redefined what a science fiction/action movie looked like, he practically invented a new genre. "T3" director Jonathan Mostow had many more bells and whistles to play with than Cameron did, but he hasn't let the technology stop him from putting his own mark on the project.

Mostow obviously is a fan of the franchise. He doesn't offer as many surprises in this film, and he's a bit heavy-handed and over-the-top in a couple of scenes, such as a chase scene in downtown Los Angeles involving a fire truck that goes on and on.

But he does infuse the story with emotional weight, and the relationship between young Connor and Kate builds beautifully. The climax is also stunning and thought-provoking, while screaming sequel at the same time.

The basic premise of the Terminator franchise can still thrill audiences. As a society, we are fascinated with machines, especially robots, and time travel has always been a crowd pleaser. When you can use both to alter the future, it's a bonus.

At the age of 56 Schwarzenegger is able to pull off the character he first played almost 20 years ago, including the now-standard nude scene in which he returns from the future. Loken is a wonderful addition, and both Stahl and Danes are excellent as two young people stunned by events out of their control.

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is a wonderful third installment. Some purists and major cult fans of the first two films may miss Cameron's directing style, but "Machines" has a much better script than the first two. However, if anybody wants a fourth film they'd better get going. Arnie may be hitting a campaign trail, instead of bad guys, very soon.

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 2, and is rated R.

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