It's a big week for sequels, and they don't come much bigger than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (12A), which reaches us 12 years after the last episode, and 19 after the one before. That gap might give T3 a legitimate claim to be "long-awaited", but it won't reassure potential audiences that the story was burning to be told, especially not when they see which of the earlier movies' participants are back - and which of them aren't. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises the role that made him a star, he's now pushing 60. James Cameron, who wrote and directed the first two Terminators, has jumped ship, surrendering the helm to the less celebrated Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Breakdown). Linda Hamilton, heroine of Terminators 1 and 2, hasn't signed up, either; and even Edward Furlong, her young son in the last instalment, is absent this time around, leaving Nick Stahl to play the same character as a grown-up.
In case you've forgotten, that character is John Connor, the man who is destined to lead the human race to victory in a post-apocalyptic war against robotkind (so that's where The Matrix got the idea). The robots keep sending cyborgs back in time to assassinate Connor's younger self, but the humans keep sending him bodyguards - reprogrammed cyborgs in Terminators 2 and 3.
Why there is only one good guy and one bad guy sent through time on each occasion is a mystery.
To begin with, it looks as if Mostow's tactic is to admit how comical and compromised the brand has become, and to play it for laughs. Arnie continues to evolve from implacable killing machine to cuddly catchphrase machine, and the new, female terminator (Kristanna Loken) alters her "biomimetic" form to imitate the curves of a Victoria's Secret model, a cheesy gag that was done last year in Men In Black II. But once the nudges and winks die down, Terminator 3 is a creditable supplement to the series. It offers some immensely gratifying scenes of property damage, all perpetrated by beings that appear to be solid and physical, as opposed to the weightless, pixellated ciphers of The Matrix Reloaded and Hulk. The story builds craftily on the plots of previous episodes, and a bold final twist left me unsure as to whether a further instalment was inevitable or impossible.
Most of T3's elements are better than you might fear, the exception being the unthreatening, uncharismatic Terminatrix. In the first film, we were faced with Arnie at his most iconic, and in the second we had the reptilian Robert Patrick enhanced by groundbreaking special effects. In T3, we have a Tamzin Outhwaite lookalike in a mauve disco suit and with an Inspector Gadget arm. Let's hope that if a sequel is forthcoming, she won't be back.
It may have taken almost two decades to release three Terminator films, but Robert Rodriguez has polished off his Spy Kids trilogy in three years, a rate that's all the more incredible when you recall that Rodriguez writes, directs, shoots, produces and edits each film, as well as composing the music, overseeing the production design and making the tea. What's yet more miraculous is that Rodriguez refuses to repeat himself. Fuelled by a palpable love of movie-making, he adds another dimension to each new film - literally, in the case of Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.
Put on your complimentary, cardboard 3D glasses, and you'll see that Juni (Daryl Sabara) has to rescue his big sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) from a virtual reality video game programmed by the lunatic Toymaker (Schwarzenegger's old rival, Sylvester Stallone). Nearly all of the sets are computer-generated (and, unlike those of the new Star Wars films, they're meant to look that way), allowing for the unfettered visual mayhem of a Chuck Jones cartoon - and allowing for comments on reality and perception which outsmart The Matrix. The 3D itself is rough around the edges, shall we say, but I was too busy being carried along by the jokes, the cameos and Rodriguez's kid-like zest to worry.
Legally Blonde 2 (PG) is the worst type of sequel: same characters, same story, new setting, and no point. In Legally Blonde, a pink and perky fresh princess of Bel-Air (Reese Witherspoon) went to Harvard Law School. What was annoying was how the film mocked her for being so obsessed by her Chihuahua and her wardrobe, and then declared, after an hour, that she was an inspiring role model who shouldn't be mocked just because she was obsessed by her Chihuahua and her wardrobe. In Legally Blonde 2, Ms Witherspoon goes to Washington, and the switch from mockery to piousness occurs much, much earlier.
After that, I was thankful for Kirikou and the Sorceress (U), a joyous, wise, French cartoon (very well dubbed into English) based on Senegalese folk tales. Kirikou is a baby boy who can walk and talk from the day he's born - which is lucky, because a wicked witch is preying on his village. It's rare to see such an intensely colourful, diverting animated film that doesn't look like it was made by Disney.
This week's re-releases are Peter Greenaway's 17th-century murder mystery, The Draughtsman's Contract (15), and Yasujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds (1959), a technicolour soap opera in which a travelling theatre company is becalmed in a town where the director's old flame and illegitimate son live.