LOS ANGELES, July 3 (UPI) -- The fast and funny "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines" demonstrates a surprising advantage to being a sequel. An original film with T3's purported budget of $170 million would have needed a script dumbed down for the broadest possible audience. Fortunately, the "Terminator" series is by now so embedded in world popular culture that screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris can simply assume that you're familiar with -- and take an intelligent interest in -- James Cameron's epic of killer robots from the future.
Cameron is merely collecting royalties this time, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is once again a nice Terminator sent back to protect humanity's eventual savior John Connor from a blond Terminatrix played by model Kristanna Loken. Like the Nordic god Loki, Loken's villainess is a trickster and shapechanger.
T3 doesn't morph into anything too original. Despite the price tag, in style it's more of a sequel to the low-budget 1984 original than the majestic 1991 T2, which seemingly brought the series to a satisfying close. Still, the screenwriters show an affectionate respect for this American classic, giving Schwarzenegger lots of moments that are witty but not campy. The competent director Jonathan Mostow pays loving tribute to Cameron's massive machine mania with a gleeful chase between a fire truck and a monstrous crane.
The 1984 "Terminator" was a generational landmark. Having been born in 1958, during the second half of the baby boom, I grew up resenting the easily won prestige of the older baby boomers. The Bill and Hillary cohort born in the late 1940s and early 1950s had been fussed over like no generation ever. Coming right after the Birth Dearth of 1930-1945, they suffered little competition from the sparsely populated previous generation.
By the time us late baby boomers came along, though, there were tens of millions of smug older boomers clogging the pipelines to the top. Further, the youth pop culture template -- JFK-idolization, long hair, and Woodstock nostalgia -- had been established, seemingly for all time. Not surprisingly, a lot of us rebelled, turning to Ronald Reagan, short hair, and the Sex Pistols.
As our interests evolved from music to movies, "Terminator" was a galvanizing discovery. The plot featured some 1960s message about machines threatening humanity, but Cameron's inordinate fondness for technology, the mightier the merrier, shone through the tired moralizing, helping launch the boom in nerd films that is with us still.
Cameron's "Terminator" also unleashed one of the hallmarks of 1980s cinema: relentlessness. In "Aliens" and his script for Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo," he brought to the movies the headlong rush of a Clash concert.
Arnold Schwarzenegger -- with his spiky haircut, Teutonic squareness, hyper-ambitiousness, and absurd musculature -- was the ultimate anti-hippie. The former Mr. Olympia bodybuilder had been a bad joke out on the geekier fringes of popular culture for a decade, but, suddenly, he was cool.
In the 1980s, muscles came back in fashion after a quarter of a century as a taste found only in trailer parks. The androgyny of male style setters like the Rolling Stones and David Bowie was relegated to the low-rent neighborhood of the hair metal bands.
In next week's "Pirates of the Caribbean," by the way, Johnny Depp tries to revive the glamour rock mode. He plays a drunken, mincing, mascara-wearing fop of a buccaneer, supposedly modeled on Stones' guitarist Keith Richards, but more reminiscent of Mike Myers' parody of their other guitarist, Ronnie Wood.
In T3, Arnold's back in awesome shape, perhaps suspiciously Michelangeloesque for a 55-year old man who might run for governor of California this fall. Did he go back on the juice to prepare for his nude arrival scene? Beats me, but it's a question Republicans should ask him before they fall in line behind the man who was the Timothy Leary of steroids. Admittedly, as Schwarzenegger frequently points out, his years of steroid use didn't damage him. But, then, he's obviously a man of superior resilience, while most of the boys who tried steroids to be like him were not.
Cameron, as much as anybody, is responsible for the contemporary film fetish for butt-kicking women, like big Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens" and the beefed-up Linda Hamilton in T2. This is always hyped as feminist empowerment (a la "Charlie's Angels"), but it's driven far more by the adolescent male's wish that sexy girls would stop being interested in all that boring girl stuff and start being interested in cool boy stuff like fighting and guns.
Mostow tops Cameron's obsession when in T3 we get to watch a potential governor of California pile-drive a pretty girl headfirst through a ceramic urinal. Most women, however, aren't made out of instant-healing liquid metal. Do they really benefit from Hollywood telling males to forget the tradition that it's unmanly to hit a girl?