Terminator 2: Judgment Day Review


After the smashing success of The Terminator on home video and the brilliance of Aliens, director James Cameron was giving the keys to the kingdom for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The budget increased exponentially over the first film in the series, and Cameron was permitted to take a major risk—turn Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic Terminator character into a hero. He was frighteningly persistent and nearly indestructible in the first film. Here, he becomes protector of man, even going so far to adopt some human qualities. His risk pays off. “Terminator 2” is a big step up from the original film, thanks to its endearing odd-couple storyline and the way it questions fate and consequence.

The film starts out with a brilliant prologue showing the aftermath of what happens on August 29, 1997. It’s known as Judgment Day, when a nuclear fire kills 3 billion humans and serves as the first act in a war between machines in humans.

Flashback a number of years, and we meet John Connor (Edward Furlong), the 10-year-old boy who is destined to become leader of the human resistance. John is the son of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who was the target of the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the first film because she would eventually give birth to John. The machines in the future decide to send a more advanced weapon after young John—the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), who is made out of liquid metal, making him even more formidable a foe than Arnold’s Terminator. He’s also back. This time, however, John reprograms him in the future to protect his younger self and his mother. He earns their trust, and becomes something of a father figure to John, while they outrun the T-1000 and try rewriting history by finding the man who created Skynet, the mega-computer responsible for Judgment Day.

It’s hard to pinpoint what I liked best about this film because so much of it works, and it’s the kind of film in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The buddy stuff between John and Terminator is sweet. Some of the dialogue, especially when John is teaching Terminator how to speak like humans, is awful and terribly dated. But the idea that this kid can never know his father and now finally has that presence in his life makes the softening of Arnold’s character a welcome and surprising element of this film.

The ideas upon which the screenplay is based are enduring. Can you change the past? Any character in the film will argue that you can, but the question is still worth considering. Will their actions actually lead to the very outcome they are trying to prevent? Another interesting question is whether John is actually meant to lead the humans because of his character (the film makes this argument), or is it simply because he is told he will that he grows into a leader?

The action in “T2” is a big improvement over that of the first film. Part of that has to be a result of the budget increases, but I think part of it too is Cameron. At this point in his career, he has two hits under his belt and another film, “The Abyss,” that was generally regarded as impressive, but a failure. The action in this film is crisper than anything he had previously done. The motorcycle chase and the prison break scenes are the standouts, demonstrating his ability to integrate many working parts into a coherent whole. And while the finale is a little overdone, Cameron’s technical prowess is undeniable.

Arnold was a full-fledged star by the time this film came out, but I don’t think anyone at the time would have argued that his most memorable performance—up to that point and to this day—was in “The Terminator.” It’s one-note, no doubt about it. But that’s what the screenplay called for. Here, he is allowed to do a little more, but he doesn’t go outside his very limited comfort zone. Linda Hamilton looks as buff as any action star besides her co-star. Her work is solid as the unkempt and unpredictable Sarah. She, like Arnold, does just what she has to—nothing more, nothing less. The best acting of the bunch comes from young Edward Furlong who isn’t perfect, but brings so much more presence than most actors his age, it’s hard not to be somewhat impressed.

I actually never responded much to the original film in the “Terminator” series, so I was somewhat surprised how much I enjoyed this film. It’s definitely dated, though not as bad as its predecessor, but it contains some very interesting ideas, top-notch action, and a little bit of heart. It engages your mind and your emotions, and still remains a damn good time.

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