Defiantly cheesy at times, T3 successfully recaptures the bone-crushing drive and cynical wit that made the original such an unexpected hit. It's an especially difficult feat, because the movie basically repeats a story almost everyone already knows.

For a summer film, T3 has a surprisingly dark side, and is tinged throughout with a sense of foreboding. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger's android says, 'I'm an obsolete design,' and the film is as preoccupied with competing against rival movie franchises as it is with the concept of destiny as doom. It's doubtful that T3's rueful melancholia will draw the same repeat business that its predecessors did.

Like the first two films, T3 opens with the arrival of an android assassin from the future sent to the past to find and kill John Connor (Nick Stahl), the last hope against machines determined to eradicate all humanity. The new T-X (Kristanna Loken) is stronger than previous Terminators. Apart from Connor, she's been programmed to kill his classmates from school, including veterinary assistant Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).

Through the sort of coincidences endemic to B-movies, Kate has just been reunited with Connor, who had gone 'off the grid' to avoid detection. Not only that, but Kate's father Robert (David Andrews) is an Air Force general in charge of the same Skynet computer program that will later take over the world.

As T-X closes in on Connor and Kate, a T-1000 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives to rescue them. No match for the newer android's weapons, the T-1000 must come up with an alternate plan to save Connor and Kate. After a chase through Los Angeles, the three head for the secret military compound to prevent General Brewster from implementing the Skynet program.

T3 stays pretty true to the rules established in the original Terminator. The filmmakers play up to Schwarzenegger's limited acting skills, especially with his terse dialogue. T3's catchphrase, 'Talk to the hand,' may not resonate like 'I'll be back,' but Schwarzenegger still turns in a solid performance, apart from one ghastly sequence in which he is forced to choose between being a good machine or an evil one. The other actors are more efficient than memorable, although Danes does bring a sense of gravity to her role.

But Terminator fans are more interested in action than acting, and T3 is nothing if not fan-friendly. One scene involving a pickup truck, drone-operated police cars and an enormous crane is hands-down the most exciting chase of the year. Oddly, the fights are less impressive, but by the time they appear the film has shifted into new territory. It may be silly to think of a big-budget blockbuster as daring. Still, the somber ending to Terminator 3 is so commercially risky that the filmmakers deserve credit for attempting it.