Close proximity with the 2 Green 2 Furious action stylings of ''The Hulk'' benefits Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But it turns out comparison isn't needed to appreciate the durable charms of Old Ironsides himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Suited up once again in the blocky cyborg's iconic Village People leatherwear, after an absence of a dozen years, a fearsomely well-moisturized Schwarzenegger stars as a collector's-edition replica of the T-800 that was destroyed for the good of mankind in 1991's ''Terminator 2: Judgment Day.''
In ''T3,'' the replicant -- now renumbered T-101 -- lands in Los Angeles to fight off a state-of-the-art T-X killing machine (Kristanna Loken, suitably, unsettlingly vacant), a comely model stalking the city's vulnerable streets. And with him, we return to a franchise we never knew we missed, surprisingly grateful for the star's generosity -- and evident pleasure -- in strapping on the old sunglasses and blasting adversaries to hell.
Tops on T-X's to-do list before machines can rule the earth in the expressionless, wrinkle-free future is to kill a couple of humans who stand in the way of world domination: John (Nick Stahl), the now-grown son of the late freedom fighter Sarah Connor (so memorably sculpted by Linda Hamilton), and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a do-gooding veterinarian linked by misty fate to Connor.
Tops on T-101's agenda, meanwhile, is proving that a story born out of the chrome-y clang of the 1980s -- a durable alloy of Schwarzenegger's schnitzel appeal and director James Cameron's apocalyptic vision -- has a place in a very different action-hero world, in a sequel made without Cameron and starring a middle-aged specimen of Austrian precision engineering and American body-shop repair. (As it is with cyborgs and movie stars, the aging takes place in the internal combustion system, while the casing looks smooth as ever.)
That ''T3'' fulfills its assignment so ably is a triumph of brain taking over where brawn can no longer prevail: What Schwarzenegger lacks in speed and agility he, director Jonathan Mostow, and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris make up for in bright, heavy metal charm, unexpectedly lively and self-aware wit, and a sure sense of when to stop fussing with special effects and just let Arnold's famous ''doan doo dot'' Teutonic-Conehead monotone work its low-tech magic.
Not to stomp the big guy when he's down, but ''T3'' casually displays exactly what ''The Hulk'' misses -- which is to say a seriously happy sense of scale, and an awareness of the world (both inside and outside the movie theater) in which it holds a place. ''Ainguh is maw yoosful dan despayuh,'' T-101 philosophizes. But Mostow -- a great choice for the job, based on the big yet lithe work he did with ''U-571'' and, especially, ''Breakdown'' -- knows that yoomah is more useful than CGI in selling both action figures and movie stars.