Terminator 2 (1991)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Edward Furlong

Foreknowledge of the end of the world would, I think, have to be among the more poisonous burdens for anyone to bear. Just look at what it has done to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In 1995, eleven years after surviving an assassination attempt by a cybernetic killing machine from 2029, Sarah has been locked away in a mental institution, ranting and raving about August 29, 1997 being our forthcoming “Judgment Day.” She’s in the maximum security wing, both because no one believes her outlandish story and because she attempted to blow up the very computer factory she swears has covered up all the evidence. Hardly the innocent, bumbling waif that she was when we first met her in “The Terminator.”

What Sarah doesn’t know but is about to find out is that Cyberdyne Systems has not only done exactly as she has said, but is even making technological leaps and bounds, with the help of genius computer programmer Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), based on the remnants of the Terminator she destroyed. Worse yet, another more advanced Terminator is on its way to kill her ten year old son, John (Edward Furlong), destined one day to be our savior. Fortunately, as before, future John sent a protector for his present day self. This one’s a Terminator of the same model and design (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as the one which tried to kill his mother, and killed a number of other people in its path, including many of those dearest to Sarah. These factors and more led the Mother of the Future to seek out every like-minded Armageddon fetishist she could find to help prepare both herself and her son for the storm just over the horizon. Yet none could take the place of her one, true beloved: John’s father, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).

Sequels which opt for the “bigger is better” approach either succeed or fail based off of which path they take. The ones which fail generally do so because they forsake storytelling for lots of cool ‘splosions. The ones that succeed take the universe which the original created and expand upon it. If they can do this while also being revolutionary in the special effects department, well, that’s just a bonus. This describes “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” perfectly. Giving Arnold Schwarzenegger the heroic role, we are able to learn from him a lot more about just what it means to be a Terminator. We certainly aren’t going to learn these things from the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), an abominable creation made of liquid metal. Unlike Arnold’s T-800, the T-1000 is more adept at blending in with his environment, both in choosing the default appearance of a mild-mannered cop and in his ability to transform into anyone he comes into contact with, even merging with the floor if need be. It took serious creativity to come up with the techniques used to bring the T-1000 to life. At the time, the special effects in “Terminator 2” were state of the art, and are still an amazing achievement that holds up well almost 25 years later.

Like its predecessor, what really sells “Terminator 2” is not the action sequences, the special effects or even the imposing villain, but its human story. You have the fatherless John Connor latching onto his new best friend, the Terminator, and teaching him how to be human. While these parts of the movie tend to get a bit too cutesy and take away from the Terminator’s intimidation factor, it still serves the narrative well, especially in the Extended Edition. Speaking of which, Sarah’s part of the story is better served by the extra scenes. For one thing, her stay at the institution is much longer, and there’s even a dream sequence which sees the brief return of Kyle Reese.

Easily my favorite moment in “Terminator 2” comes when Sarah has made her decision to drive to the home of Miles Dyson and murder him. She does manage to wound him, but stops short of completing the deed. She sees that her paranoia has led her to behave like the machines she has grown to both hate and fear. Unlike a Terminator, Sarah is not emotionless, and it is this difference which allows her to see the error of her ways. I absolutely love the way Linda Hamilton plays this scene. She’s spent the entire movie as this half-crazed, hardened woman who can think of almost nothing but the end of everything. As she stops herself from pulling the trigger, sparing Dyson’s life, you can see a spark of the woman she was before all of this shit rained down on her back in 1984.

“Terminator 2” is often cited as one of, if not the best sequel of all-time. I can’t take it quite that far (“Godfather Part II” is still the champion of second entries), in part because of the domestication of Arnold’s Terminator and the lingo he’s taught to use, which is the one thing that dates this movie. Otherwise, it’s one hell of an accomplishment, one which James Cameron could never have topped. That’s probably one of the reasons why he has never returned to the franchise, the other being that “Terminator 2” offered what at the time appeared to be a pretty definitive ending. Then again, so did Cameron’s “Aliens,” and we know how that turned out.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Excellent as always, Chuck!!!!!

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