Terminator 3’s Twist Ending Is Great (But It Betrays Judgment Day)


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an inferior sequel, but its twist ending is great, aside from the fact that it utterly betrays T2: Judgment Day.

Although Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines has a great ending, the film’s effective twist unfortunately contradicts Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While a box office success, Terminator 3 is a sequel that, in hindsight, perhaps doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This is especially true when considering the disappointment of Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys. However, for all its plus points, Terminator 3 actually undercuts some of the series’ most crucial elements.

In many ways, Terminator 3 always faced a difficult task – most notably perhaps because the first two Terminator movies are considered classics. A further complication was the decision to replace director James Cameron, who not only directed the first two Terminator movies, but co-wrote them, with Jonathan Mostow. No one knows how to make a Terminator movie better than the creator of the franchise, and in fact, at one point Cameron did almost helm the third Terminator installment as well. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be, although Cameron encouraged his close friend Arnold Schwarzenegger to return for Terminator 3, if only for the large paycheck being offered.


Related: Terminator: A Complete TV Reboot Is The Only Thing Left For The Franchise

However, even if it didn’t quite measure up to Terminator 2, Terminator 3 wasn’t without its merits. Most notable were some highly thrilling action sequences, and the addition of wife Kate Brewster to the John Connor lore. Best of all though was Terminator 3‘s ending, which turned things upside down. Just when John and Kate thought they were trying to stop Skynet’s rise, it was revealed that Judgment Day could not be averted, and that the T-800 had instead been ensuring that the two were inside a secure facility when nuclear war began. As surprising as that twist was though, it wasn’t without issues, as the idea that Judgment Day is inevitable flies in the face of Terminator 2‘s central message – that the future can be altered.

John, Sarah, and the T-800 in Terminator 2

Terminator 2 spends much of its running time hammering home the idea that the future is not set, and that Sarah and John Connor have no fates but what they make for themselves. This idea was also touched on in the first Terminator, but really became the focus of the sequel. The entire plot of Terminator 2 is based on the notion that Judgment Day can be stopped, and that Skynet’s rise can be prevented. That’s part of what makes the final scenes, in which the reprogrammed T-800 sacrifices its existence to make sure the Connors succeed, both bittersweet and triumphant.

As surprising and thought-provoking as it is, Terminator 3‘s ending effectively destroys the entire “no fate but what we make” line of thinking. Instead, Terminator 3 undoes each and every bit of success Sarah and John had previously, insisting that the downfall of mankind and the rise of a malevolent A.I. is an event that can’t be averted, only delayed. In that way, it almost makes Terminator 2‘s story feel pointless, as nothing the Connors did amounted to anything in the long run. Interestingly, James Cameron himself would bring in some of these same downbeat Terminator 3 elements to 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, which had John Connor die early on, and replaced Skynet’s rise with the rise of a different A.I. called Legion. Given this, it would seem the Connors just can’t win in any scenario, despite their sincere efforts in Terminator 2.

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