Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – The fembot of disappointment

Friends, countrypeople, readers of this blog, I have an important question to pose today:

Was anyone out there actually scared of Kristanna Loken in Terminator 3?

Loken, as you know if you saw the film, plays the newest machine to be sent back in time for a final attempt at annihilating John Connor, the future leader of the human rebellion against the machines. She’s allegedly the most advanced Terminator yet, completely deadly, a ruthless and unfeeling killing machine. She should be terrifying.

But COME ON, PEOPLE! She shows up naked in a boutique window looking like an ambassador from Planet Sultry. When a cop pulls her over, she inflates her boobs before he walks up and then she coos “I like your gun.” Why bother, if she’s just going to kill him like any good Terminator? And what’s with the shiny red leather bodysuit? Why would the machines like high heels? Being foxy gives you extra destruction power? Licking blood off your finger is the only way for a machine to read DNA?

It really made me sad. Arnold in T1 was frightening. Robert Patrick in T2 was absolutely chilling. Both films gave me the visceral feeling that these monsters were just going to keep coming, and there was no way to escape. Loken gives me the feeling that I’m about to hear a vicious critique of my fashion sense. Or she’s going to steal my boyfriend. A female Terminator could have been a Heroine Content greatest hit. But the film’s creators chose to make her sexy instead of scary, and as a result she’s just a parody.

The Claire Danes character, Kate Brewster, is a breath of fresh air compared to the ludicrous fembot Terminator. Kate is a regular person with a healthy dose of initiative. Throwing a guy in a cage, jumping out of a moving truck, machine gunning a sentient aircraft… these are the actions of a woman who can get stuff done. Yes, she has episodes of unhelpful panic and general freaking out. Given that she’s just found out that machines from the future are trying to kill her, I think we can understand that.

I do wish, though, that Kate hadn’t been assigned the role of John’s future wife. She is said to be the second in command of the rebellion against the machines in the future, which is quite cool. But why couldn’t that be on her own terms? If the film wasn’t going to show them hooking up, I’m not sure why they had to include that piece of backstory at all. All I can think of is that it reinforces the role of John as the chosen one, the man around whom the world revolves. For as much as Linda Hamilton rocked in T2, it was always for John.

The awesome negative power of Loken’s Terminator in T3, combined with a complete lack of casting diversity, combined with that homohobic crap where Schwarzenegger crushes the gay stripper’s glasses… well, let’s just say that Kate-the-helpmeet isn’t enough to save this film. No stars for this one.

I don’t see this going uphill in The Sarah Connor Chronicles now that I’ve seen one of the posters (look, Summer Glau has boobies! because that’s what’s important about a female robot!). Also not expecting great things from the recently announced Terminator 4 given that the man who directed the first Charlie’s Angels is going to be in charge.

Ah well.

More commentary: Terrified Waitresses and Chicks Who Kick Ass at Brutal Women

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

4 thoughts on “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – The fembot of disappointment

  1. Carrie


    robert patrick scared the holy hell out of me. miss red leather just made me think, man, i am SO glad she didn’t go to my high school. fie on T3. fie, i say.

    also – i think your intuition about stealing your boyfriend has merit. since clair danes’ character is clearly set up as a romantic partner, there’s a girl competition vibe to having a female terminator, in a very freudian kiss-or-kill kind of way.

  2. S. A. Bonasi

    The Sarah Connor Chronicles also cast homophobic asshat Thomas Dekker as John. And yet I’ll probably still end up watching, for Sarah, as Bionic Woman has been “Yay, Patriarchy!” from the fifth episode onward due to showrunner changes, and I’m desperate for a sci-fi show with a clear female lead.

  3. SunlessNick

    “For as much as Linda Hamilton rocked in T2, it was always for John.”

    I disagree with that; part of what I see in the story of T2 as learning (for the Terminator) and re-learning (for Sarah) the importance of the wider world, beyond their mission for John. A reason why I like it so much.

    Not that I disagree about T3; there’s a point (where the gang have just escaped from the graveyard) where Loken looks like she’s about to stamp her foot.

    It seems to me that they wanted a femme fatale look and manner to Loken’s Terminator – forgetting that she isn’t a “femme fatale,” but an unstoppable robot.

    Also, I don’t care much for the “T-X/Terminatrix” label. I’d have preferred T-900 or 950 (since making the whole thing out of liquid, as with the T-1000, strikes me as a little higher tech than layering liquid over an advanced chassis).

  4. Skye

    Thanks as always, SunlessNick. It’s about time for me to re-watch T2, and I’m going to keep your interpretation in mind while I do.

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