Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★½

I don't have as many childhood stories about T2, but I can recall the first time I ever heard about it. I was visiting a friend and he mentioned he had it recorded from television. My jaw dropped. "There's a Terminator 2?! Let's watch it right away, what are we waiting for?". His reply was as cold and crushing as that of a time-travelling android: "It's two and a half hours long, and it's already late in the afternoon. Maybe some other time." That other time never came, but I caught it on television not too soon after.

Revisiting old classics. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a bigger, more explosive, more polished sequel, but is it really better? Opinions will vary. In my humble opinion, no, it isn't better than the original, but it puts up one hell of a fight and there's good reason why it is considered one of the best sequels of all time.

I don't think I have to go through the plot for anyone. I will say that it is interesting how the film was inspired by James Cameron's own nuclear paranoia - as a child of the 1950's and 60's he knew that he was only a button push away from complete annihilation, and the scene where Sarah Connor breaks out into screaming madness about it mirrored how he felt when he saw adults around him walking around as if everything were fine. It does have the most horrifying dream sequence in cinematic history, and when nuclear experts saw it they sent Cameron a letter congratulating him on "the most accurate depiction of a nuclear blast ever put to film". It also takes a lot of risks by deconstrucing the Terminator, and instead it becomes about a crazed kind of nuclear (war) family - father, son, and holy hell, that's Linda.

Let me tell you what I don't like (not that there's much). From the very first scene, the Terminator is played for laughs. He becomes the butt of jokes, he's a protector, he's a Terminator that doesn't kill anyone. It's kind of like seeing Clint Eastwood in his underwear. The mystique and sense of terror is completely obliterated. He is bossed around by a 10-year old squeaky voiced little shit throughout the movie, and that little shit teaches him about flowers and bees and acting tough. The one good thing about a pacifist Terminator is you could have a drinking game for every time he kneecaps someone or throws them face first into a hard surface - floor, pavement, pillars, you name it. The CGI has definitely aged, but some of it still works surprisingly well. I think we respect it because it is used sparingly and with real purpose - nowadays every single movie is such an absurd parade of CGI trickery that we've become jaded, here it was only used to enhance a few shots and show us something that we'd never seen before.

No, I think this film really belongs to Linda Hamilton. She is the one with the real acting chops, her character is the one that carries through with an arc from the first film, and she's truly the heroine of the piece. John may be the important one, but he's really just a talking (squeaking) little MacGuffin for her and Arnie to take along with them. The audience always gravitates towards strong female roles, particularly ones that have emotional depth and character to them as well, and there's a method to Sarah Connor's madness, despite being kind of nuts we know that she will ultimately prevail and that she's actually the force for good in this one. It's a Linda Hamilton tour-de-force, as she valiantly throws herself into scenes with staggering emotion as well as incredible physical action. Her twin sister Leslie also makes a cameo appearance towards the end when the T-1000 is mimicing her.

They did a few crazy things for this sequel too, most of them in the very same sequence towards the end. When the helicopter is riding beneath the underpass, that's a helicopter riding beneath an underpass. When Arnold climbs from one vehicle to another while they're still in motion and blasts the T-1000 right in the face (one of the most satisfying moments in the entire movie), that's exactly what the stuntman did, just climbed from one moving vehicle to another. When it finally crashes, Cameron admits that to create that incredibly lifelike liquid nitrogen they used..well, liquid nitrogen.

Although this sequel feels more action than horror, played more safe and sanitary ("Buy the Guns N' Roses single and play the hit Nintendo video game!"), I still think it works incredibly well as a thematic piece. It works on deeper levels than the first film, all carried through by Hamilton's excellent narration, and it succeeds in being cautionary without being preachy. I often think a great deal about fate and fatalism - are we all following a linear path that is already set out for us? Surely we must be, because we have no reason to know otherwise, and we can't live our lives twice. This film argues that we don't, even if it shoots itself in its cybernetic foot with the inevitable Terminator paradox: If there's a nuclear war and you survive it, you eventually go back in time to prevent it from ever happening. You succeed. So why did you go back in time in the first place? The sequels nudge this notion back with a bleaker but slightly more satisfactory "the doomsday work carries on by someone else, and the progress of technology is inevitable". As horrible as it sounds, I think that history has proven that it seems far more likely. But perhaps we can still learn, despite everything. If humanity is capable of great destruction, then we are just as capable of great love, great camraderie, togetherness. All I know is that I have a friend that loves to point to any article about a big technological breakthrough (robots, androids, AI, drones) and add a sly "Skynet is coming true" comment. I also have one who said that whenever his son would start to cry, he'd break out his Arnold accent and say "I have to go away. I must go away, John", and for whatever reason that just cracked the absolute hell out of me.

Terminator 2 is not as tightly woven as the original, nor in my opinion as psychologically intense, but it is classic action on a grand scale, and it still works because every single year that passes the moral of the story becomes more poignant and frighteningly familiar. In a twist of ironic delight we even have machines making most of our entertainment these days, and who is spearheading the movement? James Cameron of course. Always pushing the envelope with more and more computer power. Replacing humans with emotive robots and liquid creations. Did he see all this coming? Was he warning us? No fate but what we make.

Robin liked this review