I am a big fan of the Terminator series of movies and TV show. The one exception, however, is the third movie, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which I feel is of a considerably lower quality. My assessment is that the movie caters primarily toward the male teenager audience, abandoning much of the series’ serious content in favor of gratuitous sexually pleasing elements and humor sequences. Their portrayal of the first female Terminator, the T-X (who I personally will always think of as Shawn’s evil girlfriend from Boy Meets World), is in particular showing a high degree of pandering to a simplistic male viewing standard I feel to be indicative of sexism.
The main thing about the design of the T-X is that she is unlike the previous Terminator models, which are obsolete in contrast. I would say that her physical design insofar as it relates to her combat capacity is satisfyingly creative and powerful, but it is also needlessly sexually attractive. This shows in the very choice of outfit she was given to wear. While Arnold dons his traditional black leather, evoking his biker look from the previous films, the T-X wears a high-quality low-cut red leather outfit with high heels. Although the outfit is not especially sexual on its own, the way actress Kristanna Loken plays the T-X allows the outfit to accentuate her feminine qualities.
The very manner in which she moves is of a seductive feminine nature. In addition to simple fluid grace, she exhibits explicit wiggly undulations in her movements, which carry with them an erotic undertone. This is seen notably when she extends her needle-like drill from her fingertip – a tool used to transmit nanobots into machines in order for her to control them remotely. The drill is a main facet of her power, and it is shown off in a way that displays the theme of the character: strong, sexually attractive, feminine, and evil.
The T-X exudes sexuality in a way quite inappropriate for the Terminators. Yes, argument can be made that it would be an effective technique for disarming humans, but it is not portrayed solely as an attack strategy. Rather, the T-X exists to be sexually titillating for the viewer and just so happens to also be the main antagonist. The concept of seductiveness as an aid in infiltration is utilized in the TV show by female Terminator Cameron to greater effect, as it is depicted as a conscious decision in which its application is turned on and off to achieve specific ends – mainly to manipulate John. However, in Terminator 3, the T-X’s seductiveness is pure fanservice.
One of the worst (i.e. most blatant) incidents in which this occurs is when the T-X, caught speeding, is pulled over by a cop. First of all, it makes little sense for the T-X to pull over at all. She’s a Terminator – she’s supposed to be an unstoppable force smashing through the city (as she does later) until her objective is complete. Not only does she stop, but she tries to get out of a ticket by appearing sexually attractive, inflating her breasts to match a Victoria’s Secret model displayed on a nearby billboard. And she still ends up killing him, so the whole bit turns out to just be a way to please sleazy male viewers. “I like your gun,” she states in a seductive tone – a far cry from Arnold’s terse demands or the T-1000’s even-toned requests. The point of the T-X is that she is sexy, is evil, and has power – in that order.
In another scene, she assaults the veterinary clinic where her target Kate works (which incidentally doesn’t follow the Terminator modus operandi of hitting the target’s home first, but anyway…). After killing a female customer, she checks to see if it was really Kate by tasting her blood and analyzing her DNA. The simple act of wetting her finger with the blood and rubbing it off on her tongue is played in a very slow provocative manner. Upon finding another sample of blood to be from her primary target John Connor, she gasps as though having an orgasm from the realization.
And while she is very powerful, a good-sized portion of that power is in itself sexually provocative. John refers to her as a ‘Terminatrix’ for good reason, as she has a very dominatrix-like demeanor. For one thing, she seems to be the first Terminator seen to be actively sadistic. While the T-1000 got tense and annoyed, he never seemed to enjoy causing damage as anything other than a means to his primary function. The T-X, on the other hand, appears to get pleasure out of specific acts of causing injury. For another thing, she has the characteristic of being able to control other machines. While she looks sexy and leisurely approaches her targets, she gets to attack from afar using a small army of zombie machines. Her red leather outfit only adds to the evil dominatrix look.
Finally, the manner in which she is ultimately taken out seems to me to be an illustration of male dominance over an evil female. I normally scoff at claims that weapons of various natures represent phallic male aggression and whatnot, but in this particular case I have to admit that oral rape seems to be the implication when Arnold shoves the boxlike explosive into the T-X’s mouth. I recall a similar scene in Alien when the robot Ash attacks Ripley by shoving a rolled-up magazine into her mouth, a clear metaphor for rape. There it was used horrifically, to portray Ash as a villain. However, in Terminator 3, the reasons seem to be to illustrate the male T-101 protagonist’s victory over the evil female antagonist who exudes sexuality.
Not all females in the Terminator series are portrayed as badly as the T-X. However, Sarah Connor, the strong independent fighter of the previous film has been killed off in the backstory of Terminator 3 due to actress Linda Hamilton turning down the part. Kate, the female protagonist, lacks a lot of the power held by Sarah. This is understandable, given the character’s recent introduction to the agents of Skynet, but by the time she gets the initiative to wield a weapon, the character’s only use of that initiative is to destroy an aerial Hunter-Killer. John makes a humorous comment about her reminding him of his mother, and that is the end of her power.
What is more, she is given a unique ability, that of being able to control the T-101. This element had a lot of potential that was just never realized. Her full usage of that ability is to order the T-101 to save her father and to tell her how John dies in the future (and for there to be a joke about the T-101 being unable to comply with her line “Drop dead, asshole!”). When the T-101 is corrupted by the T-X and is moving toward John to kill him, it is John who talks him into saving them by making him realize that he has no other reason to live than to ensure their protection. This could easily be a scene in which Kate makes use of her ability to help fight the T-X’s influence, rising into her role as a resistance leader. However, it’s all about John nobly taking a beating as he talks down the T-101, while Kate gets the plane started up in the sidelines.
Kate’s main role is as a supporter to John. She is his future wife and mother of his future children. While John’s pivotal role in the human resistance against the machines has always been a part of the mythology, female characters can still be strong even as they defend him, as shown by Sarah. Even scared waitress Sarah of The Terminator was able to deliver the final blow to the first T-101 by tricking it to crawl underneath the hydraulic press. With the exception of her destruction of the Hunter-Killer, however, Kate does not show strength as a female protagonist.
While at first I considered Terminator 3 a total failure, I found I enjoyed it better on the second viewing after I had lowered my expectations accordingly. I think it, like the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, to be better if I watch it while considering it to be like a fanfic – an attempt by a fan to play around in a cool universe – rather than a serious addition to a cool series. That said, I find the blatant sexual rendering of the T-X to be quite awful.
The movie was created for a male audience and has degraded itself to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It carries a heavy sexist tone throughout, and so stands in stark contrast to its predecessors. While not a total waste of time, I do feel that the filmmakers have significantly erred in their depiction of the T-X. Here’s hoping Terminator Salvation cleans up its act.