He's back, and improbable as it may seem a dozen years after he last lumbered across screens, the Terminator has barely lost a step. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the most welcome surprise so far this summer among big movies, a sequel that manages to further its story and characters while paying homage to its past—and all in a blessedly unbloated 109 minutes. Just sit back, pass the popcorn and muse on the cultural significance of Schwarzenegger's Terminator extending his arm, palm out, toward an offending mortal and instructing, "Talk to the hand."
When T3 opens, a superduper Terminatrix, the curvaceous cyborg T-X (Kristanna Loken), arrives on Earth. Her mission: to kill John Connor (now played by Stahl) so that he won't be able, in the future, to lead humans in a resistance movement against evil machines. Soon, a replica of an earlier-model cyborg, Terminator (Schwarzenegger; see p. 71)—who tried to kill Connor's mother in the first Terminator (1984) to prevent Connor's birth and then returned as Connor's savior in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)—shows up to again keep our hero, as well as the woman (Danes) who will become Connor's wife, alive.
Although new-to-the-series director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) does a solid job with the high-energy action scenes, what keeps T3 perking is a whopping helping of self-mocking humor. "You're the closest thing to a father I ever had," Connor tells the Terminator, adding, "How pathetic is that?" Schwarzenegger, whose dialogue is wisely kept to curt commands ("I need your car"), seems to be having more fun here than he has since, well, T2. Stahl and Danes scramble through their scenes with commendably straight faces, as if believing the earth's future really was at stake, and Loken is appropriately shiny and metallic. Is it too soon to tee up for T4? (R)
BOTTOM LINE: There's life in this machine yet