Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

A long, long, long time ago, there was a boy. A boy who was shy, sort of friendless and very, very open to worlds outside of his own. He was a boy who grew up with Thomas The Tank Engine and things of that like. This was a boy that had yet to be really opened to the world of cinema. But on one quiet, normal night, many, many years ago, that changed. The boy’s parents would always be watching movies on Friday night TV and the boy would never take any notice of them, until one night, a bulky action hero, with a shotgun and a motorbike, graced his parents’ television. From that night on, the boy changed. He started watching more films with the bulky action hero, even the one where he was pregnant, countless times, over and over again. He began wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses everywhere he went. He started telling people to come with him if they wanted to live. He tried imitating an iconic Austrian accent (not very well, but he was a kid, what did he know?) and expressionless stares. The boy’s life, in short, had been changed. He grew up, of course, and started watching other films, including many without the bulky action hero (which he treated as a sin growing up), but he never gave away the sunglasses or leather jacket, always holding it dear to his heart. How he could he ever forget the one experience that changed his life forever?

In all my time at Letterboxd, I have never given Terminator 2: Judgment Day a review. The film I constantly proclaim to be my all-time favourite and it’s never gotten a review. Surely the film that changed your life and turned you into the person you are today should get a review, right? There’s actually a reason for it; Terminator 2 is one of those childhood favourites that I put off rewatching for so long, because I wanted to preserve my love for it and never, ever have to acknowledge it’s flaws. I wanted to feel the same way about it as I did all those years ago, when I looked on it with wide-eyed enthusiasm and child-like wonder. Revisiting old favourites over the past few months hasn’t been a very good experience for me, and I treated Terminator 2 with trepadition towards how I might feel about it now. Now, until last night, it had been about three years since I had last watched it. That’s a long time to be without your favourite film, but what if I had watched it and it wasn’t my favourite film anymore? That would just feel incredibly wrong. But I bit the bullet and popped it into the dvd player, even after a little mishap with the disc that I was close to considering as a bad omen.

Watching it now, it’s easy to see that Terminator 2 is not a perfect film. It’s got several problems with it’s script, including some dreadful exposition and horrendous plot-holes, with Edward Furlong’s slightly annoying performance as John Connor, a pivotal character, not really helping matters. However, like I hoped it would, the film worked it’s inimitable magic on me and had me seeing those problems as 1% of the film. The other 99% was my childhood, coming back to me in full force for 147 minutes.

Now before I start completely going gaga about everything I love about this film, let me tell you about a problem I’ve always had with this film ever since I got the DVD in my early teenage years: the extended edition. I used to seriously dislike it. I used to think that all it used to do was add flab to a movie that didn’t need anymore. The standard edition was already pretty lengthy, and it did have some moments that could have used a bit of editing, but it was always moving, always entertaining. Looking on the extended version now, which runs for an extra 17 minutes than the standard version, I’m a lot more forgiving and I actually approve of some of the added scenes, such as Sarah’s dream of Kyle Reese warning her of the danger John is in and where Sarah tries to destroy the Terminator’s CPU, while John tries to stop her and tells her to start treating him like the world leader he’s going to eventually be. These scenes actually manage to add depth to the characters and their later actions in the film. Some scenes, including John teaching the Terminator how to smile, are still superfluous in my eyes, but they don’t irritate me as they used to.

There are many who complain about the complete tonal shift from the almost-horror movie tone of the first film for a more action-orientated feel. As a child, I always preferred the tone of Terminator 2 and as a teenager, I really just have to admire James Cameron for how well he makes it work. This is a sequel that could have really failed, really lacked the spark that made the original so brilliant. And it is actually missing the spark that made the original so great… because it’s got a blazing spark all of it’s own. This is not a film that just functions as a continuation of a story. This is a film that functions all on it’s own, with it’s own personality and it’s own heart. And I really, really respect that.

Of course, one thing you need to make a good action film is good action, and Cameron shows the audience here once again that he is a master of orchestrating action sequences. There are so many here that stick to the mind: the viaduct chase, the mental hospital escape, the Cyberdyne siege, the helicopter-van-car-truck chase that ensues, the red-hot steel mill finale, all of them terrifically entertaining moments of the film that still keep me on the edge of my seat. And it’s not the just the action sequences that play over in my head long after the film is over. There are so many unforgettable images here that Cameron creates; the burning playground, Linda Hamilton doing pull-ups, the milk carton death, Linda Hamilton giving that steely ass glare, the roses falling to the ground under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boots, Linda Hamilton’s ferocious snarl, the robotic foot crushing one of many skulls, Linda Hamilton… those are burned into my brain forever and not just from constant rewatches over the years (except for the last few).

However, the true wonder of Terminator 2 is that it’s not just an empty action vehicle designed to be disposable. It has a human element in the character relationships that connects with me, at least. Cameron’s screenplay might be a little clunky with some dialogue and a bit sentimental when it comes to portraying the father-son relationship between John Connor the Terminator sent back in time to protect him, but for the most part, it’s very well-written and the emotional connection between the Terminator, John Connor and Sarah Connor is very believable, thanks to some solid scriptwriting that adds depth and a connection to a kind of film that wouldn’t usually have one. It doesn’t work for some, and that’s fine, I wouldn’t expect it to for everyone. It works for this audience member, and that’s what matters to me.

The performances are all fine here, yes, even from Edward Furlong, who still manages to be competent enough to hit an emotional note with a lot of his scenes with Schwarzenegger. Speaking of Schwarzenegger, he’s good here also. It’s a role which doesn’t require him to act very much, which is good, but it does require him to have a good amount of screen presence, which he does. Some of his dialogue delivery here is emotionless perfection and the way he plays the character sort of childlike in ways is beneficial for the relationship between the Terminator and John Connor and how they try to teach other about things only a father and son can. Linda Hamilton is fantastic, her complete character change from her girl-next-door persona from the first film to the complete badass in this one is made all the more convincing by her strong acting ability. Robert Patrick carries a lot of menace as the villain, making the chameleon-like T-1000 a real threat, not a stupid, special effects-laden bad guy.

This is kind of lengthy already, so this is a quick kudos for two of the technical highlights to the film; the knockout special effects and the absolutely superb soundtrack. They add so much to the equation, becoming a part of the film’s robotic pulse, instead of just being there to make things look and sound cool.

And now we get to the part of the film that always grabs me by the heart: the ending. What a fucking gutpunch. I’m not talking about the climax, but the real ending, where everything should be over, but Cameron pulls a gutwrenching card from his sleeve: the Terminator, John’s father figure and first true friend, has to go to preserve John’s future. There is where the sentimentality really kicks into high gear and I couldn’t really care less. I fall for it every time and I really can’t help it, nor do I want to. “I know now why you cry, but it’s something I can never do.” That is one of the cheesiest lines of dialogue ever written, but it hits me every time and it hurts. That line is where the tears start for me and they don’t stop until the closing credits, almost five minutes later. Many say the ending is protracted and overly-corny, and I can’t really disagree. It’s definitely Cameron mining the moment for all the melancholy that it’s worth. But it’s also Cameron bringing his character relationships full circle and it works like a charm for me.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day isn’t a perfect film. But for me, it is a perfect experience, and I could never, ever consider another film my favourite of all time. It would just be wrong. It’s the film I hope to make one day; the film that can change a child’s life and open that child up to a whole new world out there. It won’t be a film that will work for everyone, but if it worked for that one child, like Terminator 2 did for me, then it’s a film I’d be proud of making, just like James Cameron should be of this one.

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