Like most, I was skeptical when I first heard that Terminator 3 was in production. Why would anybody want to see a new Terminator installment, twelve whole years after James "Jimbo" Cameron fashioned Terminator 2 into the ultimate action film? What could another sequel have to offer? ("Look, the enemy Terminator is now a girl. Yawn.")
Even though I can't stand that pompous old Jimbo, I got even more suspicious when I heard that he had absolutely zero involvement in this sequel. He's not even given a thank-you credit. How could this film be any good? The old-fashioned way, I guess: With a good script and a good director.
Mostow is little-known aside from his capable "B" thrillers Breakdown and U-571, but then Cameron's only pre-Terminator directing credit was for Piranha 2, so why split hairs? Given the still-nifty premise - robot from the future is sent back to the present to kill the person(s) responsible for leading the human race to victory in a war against the machines - and a fresh cast (with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, naturally), Mostow's craftsmanship and lack of pretension come to the fore. He's made a lean, exciting thriller, and if Terminator 3 (which I've noticed nobody is calling "T3", although amusingly some woman in line at the theatre asked for tickets to "T2") doesn't fully measure up to the adrenaline rush of its predecessors, it's still a damn sight better than any of the other action films put out in the last couple of years.
Nick Stahl is decent in the part that Edward Furlong originated (and is now too drugged-out to play), though his accent suggests that his character John Conner spent a few years in New York since the last film. Claire Danes delivers a performance that initially teeters on the annoying, but eventually settles in. Arnold is back in his natural habitat. And as the villainous T-X robot (whose trick, in this highly-networked age, is that it can remotely access and control other machines) supermodel Kristanna Loken is effective in a role identical to Robert Patrick's in T2, though perhaps because of her distracting good looks she lacks the menace Patrick had.
But why quibble? I'm just impressed that three films with essentially the same plot line can each feel distinct and fresh. Terminator 3 deserves praise for daring to be truly dark in these washed-out times, with a notably sharp surprise ending. I still think the first two movies carry more visceral impact, though my memory may be clouded by nostalgia.. Nevertheless, this film is worth seeing for a high-quality blend of action and story that is miles ahead of the other summer blockbusters. Best of all, it doesn't have the dreary pathos Jimbo suffused T2 with.