Not the movie the previews portrayed (the one I wanted to see)
The most interesting thing here was the thematic contrast with Terminator 2. T2 had the T-800 acquiring human abilities, and nuclear war being averted- it's the triumph of free will. T3 is all about destiny, the learned behaviour and memories of the earlier terminator has been erased, the war is inevitable, John Connor will fight, lead, and win. The moment where Arnold's terminator overcomes his reprogramming is not so much because of his self-awareness and ability to choose, but because if he was to kill Connor then Connor's destiny would be unfulfilled.
A field of skulls, dozens of terminators walking and firing, desperate humans rallying in front of a battered flag, and plenty of nukes- this is what we've been waiting for right? No, that's just a few minutes of exposition at the beginning, T3 is just another mano-a-mano fight and chase sequence through the present day. The first two movies spent more time in the future than this one.
But I enjoyed T3, though my expectations were extremely low given the loss of James Cameron and Linda Hamilton- I like the new John Connor though. T3 is far from the near perfection of T2, but doesn't destroy the franchise either. It didn't do spectacularly domestically, but I'm guessing the worldwide gross will make a fourth film pretty likely- and given the ending here there's no way around exploiting the post-apocalyptic setting fully.
The Terminatrix was pretty cool, though she seemed much more evil than the previous male terminators, being more brutal and showing more emotion. Which makes her a less effective killing machine given all the times she could have blown away the protagonists in the movie but instead choses to do her killing in a more sportly and creative way.
She had a few flaws though-
Her female seductive side was used for all of 2 seconds on the cop, and for no good reason other than to make it slightly more easy to take his gun and dispense with him.
-Her underlying form is murky and therefore uncompelling. I didn't really know what she was supposed to be until I watched the special features that explain she is a more advanced metal exo-skeleton with liquid metal reservoirs that make up her skin. She has multiple different weapons built-in, but there is no real defining feature other than a female form.
I'm sure there was an explanation in the second film, but I thought the issue with time travel was that only things surrounded by living tissue can do it, but the T1000 and TX have no living tissue- more advanced time travel techniques perhaps?
-Her ability to control objects that are not digitally controllable in real life was dumb. Controlling the tracked terminators late in the film made sense, but to remote control a regular car you'd have to install a bunch of servos and a wireless receiver to work the gas and steering wheel etc.
She doesn't use this very effectively either, the cars move just about the same as if they had independent drivers. It would be cool to show them moving very precisely in formation initially, and perhaps when the TX is injured or otherwise distracted the remote operated vehicles would crash or lose most of that precision.
The crane chase sequence was okay, far short of the Matrix Reloaded chase, and kind of claustrophobic (why no helicopter shots, or anything else to give more context to the chase?), and a little murky initially because they had to recolor the film to make it look like early morning. The cgi TX falling off the crane and then somehow sliding to grab on the rear looked horrible.
There wasn't any music then either- where's the signature Terminator music, or anything at all? Music is good because it gives important clues as to what's happening and its relation to coming events- is this the climax of the chase, is it winding down, is the danger to the protagonists heightened here now or is it just a minor setback?
The biggest problem I have with the movie is the disinterest of the authorities in this chase and subsequent destruction. A great moment in the first film was the police station shoot-out, but here we just get a cemetary scene that comes off like a low-key version of the fight with police at the Cyberdyne facility in T2. No helicopters or occupied police cars show up to the crane chase or elsewhere- you'd think that the LA police would have created a special counter-terminator unit after their prior experiences. The only significant interaction with authorities is just a throwaway gag with the psychiatrist from the first two movies.
I'm hard-pressed to figure out where the $170 million went, but I'm guessing the director was not experienced or prepared enough to actually maximize the value seen on film, and wasted a great deal of money. In the director's commentary Mostow speaks a great deal about how much effort and time went into what looks like an ordinary scene, but when you watch the movie it's obvious a lot more could have been done on stages or off location with a few establishing shots left to the 2nd unit (the Beverly Hills scene, for instance).
The second to final encounter between Arnold and the TX was pretty good, I'm a sucker for people getting pounded through walls and porcelain- there's no greater impression of strength and weight created than by smashing something solid and familiar like a toilet.
I was expecting more at the bunker, I thought the movie wasn't over yet but here the two terminators are already dead.
The ending was great. The movie was such that every major plot point was pretty obvious about two minutes (if not more) before the actors realize it, like the weapons in the casket, Connor being dead in the future, and the bomb shelter not housing Skynet. Where was the "We'll Meet Again" song that ended that Kubrick movie where everything gets nuked? If the movie hadn't ended like this the series would have failed to evolve, the situation would be like the end of T2 where maybe or maybe not more assassins will be sent from the future.
The worst thing about the ending is this feeling of really wanting to see what happens next (since that was what I was expecting from the movie anyway), that this was just half a movie but the other half is up in the air (unlike the reassuring ending of Matrix Reloaded where the conclusion had a preview and release date).