Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★½

T2, for being a highly imperfect movie, deserves its acclaim. Modern blockbusters and even the marketing teams, in my opinion, owe a lot to JUDGMENT DAY.

Iconic (and highly promote-able) imagery, breathtaking action scenes, development of a greater cinematic universe, and acceptable crowd-pleasing (although sometimes critically 'blah') elements.

Cool images and moments are widespread in T2. Arnie's sunglasses, the one-handed reloading of the shotgun on the motorbike, Linda Hamilton's workout regimen, her own shotgun-handling skills, and the T1000's icy glare. It's brilliant-looking stuff. Throw in a great score, effective slow-motion, and some of the showcase action scenes (which are jaw-dropping and still hold up really well), and TERMINATOR 2 stands out as a historic benchmark for noisy-summer-movie filmmaking (this doesn't even not even get into the revolutionary effects).

Aside from the 'cool factor', Cameron elevates the TERMINATOR series via the script by building a bit of a cinematic world--sort of. Although not the only film at the time to continue a story, James Cameron not only brings out a new chapter, but he commits to establishing a greater universe for the Terminator franchise--one which captured the imagination of filmgoers in a way not unlike STAR WARS or STAR TREK. Most other action sequels of the 1980s and 1990s were much more about repeating adventure and 'upping' the stunts and special effects action. JUDGMENT DAY certainly did this compared to the original, but it also created a broader timeline and world with rules and events.

I would argue that part of why this works is the script's focus on the Connors as a family unit. Sarah (an absentee parent), John (a delinquent raised in foster homes), and a death-robot are more than a ragtag group on the run. Arnold's terminator is a weirdly effective dad-figure, and he gives the film's protagonists a bit of a heart. It's only too bad that Sarah explains all of this in an unnecessary voice-over in the middle of the film.

Not all of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY works. Cameron, sometimes very much a populist, gives us little winks and humor elements that bend and twist the edgy, dark spirit of the original. John Connor's teaching his death machine humanity and Arnold's slowly learning it lead to multiple uncomfortable moments. And frequently Edward Furlong irritates as he annoyingly plays an annoying kid.

But overall, T2 is strongly rooted in Cameron's desire be exciting and cool. And through new technical effects (at the time), a great score, a solid script, and an eye for iconic imagery, he succeeded and turned T2 into high point in blockbuster history.
A-

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