Essentially an overblown (in the best sense of the word) remake of its predecessor, Terminator 2 stands as a highpoint in both action and 90’s Cinema, and still ranks of one of the best Hollywood sequels ever produced. Utilising a then record breaking $94 million budget to breath-taking effect, the film packs kinetic action sequences, vivid special effects (which still impress), and a surprising amount of heart ,for a film about killer cyborgs, into its 139 minute running time. It is Director James Cameron at his best, although the film is certainly not without its flaws.
Although it works perfectly as a standalone film, people who have seen the first Terminator will probably have a more enjoyable time watching this film, and find the plot easier to follow.
After an apocalyptic opening montage, accompanied by Brad Fiedel’s pulse pounding score we arrive in present day Los Angelos. More than 10 years have passed since Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) nightmarish battle with The Terminator, but her troubles have far from ended. After being caught trying to bomb a computer factory she is incarcerated in a Mental Hospital (under the supervision of Dr Silberman (Earl Boen) from the first film), and banned from contacting her son, John.
He, meanwhile (Edward Furlong) is causing havoc for his foster parents, tearing around on his motorbike, and displaying a healthy disrespect for the law (not to mention a very dated fashion sense), he is far from the heroic individual previously pictured. Disbelieving of his mother’s stories about Judgement Day and his future destiny as leader of the Human Resistance, he is unaware his (for want of a better word) carefree childhood is about to end.
On the other side of the city, two cold eyed men appear in the midst of strange electric storms, soon revealed to be Terminators- An reprogrammed T-800- similar to the one in the first film (Arnold Schwarzenegger), sent back by Connor to protect himself, and the far advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick) a shape shifting liquid metal killing machine with an opposite goal. It is here that the film first thrills, for the first 20 minutes of the film it isn’t very clear which one is the bad guy, Schwarzenegger’s image from the first film is cleverly played up for dramatic effect, it adds a lot of tension to an otherwise quite slow opening , guessing which Terminator’s the ‘bad guy’. Soon the two meet violently, and John Connor is forced on the run. With his cyborg guardian keeping watch, he rescues his mother and embarks on a desperate race against time (dodging Security Forces and the increasingly inventive T-1000 in the process) to stop Judgment Day once and for all.
It’s quite a complicated set up, with many more twists and turns’ following as the plot unfolds, but Cameron (also acting as co-screenwriter) handles the complication with ease, the film is rarely self-indulgent and never confusing, although some viewers may find it hard to accept such a far-fetched plot, in any case the film’s subtle message about Human greed and the dangers of technology, sits somewhat unsteadily in what is essentially a summer popcorn film.
Whilst it is occasionally a little preachy, in most other respects this is a film with its feet planted firmly in multiplex cinema, and as such has many of the strengths and flaws you’d expect.
The biggest selling point of Blockbusters is often their action sequences, say what you like about the Transformers and James Bond films, but you can’t deny the spectacle. The same is true here, The Terminators first cross paths in a brutal back corridor fist fight before engaging in a long, but thrilling chase through LA’s storm drains. Energetic direction by Cameron and an enthusiastic special effects department makes it gripping viewing and sets the bar for the film high; it subsequently matches this scene and more.
Despite its fluid direction, and thrilling nature, this sequence could ultimately come out of any other action film…until the T-1000 is revealed in its ‘true’ form that is.
It’s obviously CGI, it looks a little rough around the edges, and its certainly lost some of its power, but the image of a silvery- white humanoid figure striding out of a blazing fire stays in the mind, in the early 90’s it was a revelation, in the present day less so, but its skilled animation nonetheless, and its few appearances in the film make an interesting contrast to the Steel skeleton of the T-800.
Relative newcomer Robert Patrick portrays the T-1000 (A role he hasn’t yet come close to matching), and whilst saying he makes ‘a good robot’ is hardly a complement to his acting ability, he is very effective in the role, Cameron commented he wanted a ‘Human Porsche ‘ in the role, (The T-800 being a Panzer Tank) it’s easy to see why Patrick was cast: sleek, very fast and chilly, he makes a suitable villain, even if he lacks the charisma of his predecessor.
The other action sequences- a lengthy freeway chase, and a taut gunfight in a lift to name only two examples, are just as gripping-dramatic, very diverse and employing impressive (and extensive) practical and visual effects, they elevate the film from mere action film to popcorn classic, there’s even a few glimpses of the post Judgment Day Future (Later the subject of 2009’s Terminator Salvation). It is in the action sequences that such a big budget is properly justified; they look and feel expensive, and almost make the film worth watching by themselves.
Ultimately though, the film could have the best action sequences in the world, and still fall flat on its face if you didn’t care about the characters, it may surprise some viewers, but Cameron makes nearly as much effort with the script as he does with the effects, indeed, it’s almost impossible not to care. Whilst the script isn’t perfect- the dialogue is occasionally ropey, and there are more than a few terrible one liners (Including several favourites from the first film), it packs a surprisingly well balanced amount of entertainment and characterisation.
In the eleven years since the events of the preceding film, Sarah Connor has changed, hardened by her past experiences, and the knowledge of what’s to come, she is far removed from her rather generic, and dare I say it boring portrayal in the earlier film Tougher, cleverer, but even more haunted than before, she is a charismatic personality (further helped by Hamilton’s enthusiastic performance), and the perfect antithesis to the rather robotic (no joke intended) T-800.
John Connor’s journey from arrogant tearaway to resourceful leader meanwhile, obviously can’t be covered in Two hours, but the film does a decent job at justifying his involvement in the storyline, at first an annoying kid, he soon becomes a counterweight for the audience to root for- his wide eyed shock, and arrogant charm serving as a very human antidote to the colossal action scenes.
During the course of the film, he slowly bonds with the T-800, forming a very odd father-son relationship, its surprising, and surprisingly touching, although hearing a Terminator say the (Ironic to say the least) phrase (Referring To Humans) ‘It’s in you nature to destroy yourself’ does somewhat diminish their credibility as lethal killing machines.
Although, Furlong’s inexperience as an actor, shows at several points in the film (as does the act he was going through puberty-his appearance fluctuates quite noticeably), he is generally quite good in his screen debut, sharing a good chemistry with his elders, and clearly enjoying himself (What kid wouldn’t on such a film?).
Despite the vast action sequences, and ground-breaking effects, the real star of this film is Schwarzenegger. A Seven year gap, a successful career, and making the T-800 a ‘good guy’ hadn’t changed his approach to the character. Speaking his lines in a thick, bland Austrian accent, moving slowly and mechanically, and remaining completely, well…robotic throughout the film, he nonetheless remains a very likeable character, charismatic, and lethal in almost equal measure. The film builds on this approach, and simply wouldn’t be the same with without him.
It’s well-directed, cleverly cast and action packed, but there are issues that no amount of visual flair or cash can chase away. Following an action packed, and relatively tight opening, the film loses focus a little; widening gaps between the action scenes and too many unnecessary diversions into ‘atmosphere’ slow the film noticeably, at several points it comes close to running out of steam…put simply it’s too long.
The Beauty of The First Terminator film, was its simplicity- it never pretended to take itself seriously and had a stick thin storyline. Whilst the more ‘grown up’ tone does its sequel many favours, some audiences may find the frequent references to ‘Judgement Day’ and human greed a little annoying and repetitive, its a shadow which hangs over the film, though to what degree it blots out the film’s fun largely depends on the viewers own opinions.
Though the four leads are well defined, many more minor cast members are given less to work with, remaining decidedly two dimensional, and very forgettable throughout: fat police officers,ugly bikers and milkshake swigging teenagers all make appearances, though few seem to serve much purpose, and many are annoying. Though, admittedly they make entertaining cannon fodder for the Terminators to fight around.
In conclusion Terminator 2 Judgement Day is erratically paced and unevenly scripted, and certainly won’t please all viewers. Whether it’s too ‘clever’ for its own good, and whether it’s flaws are really that big a deal, is likewise best left to the viewer’s discretion, it is an action film after all, primarily designed to entertain you, not make you think.
But when it works; it really works- for the right viewer of course. Stunning action sequences, enthralling special effects, funny one liners, and a Charismatic Cast all combine to make this a very enjoyable action film for those that can consent to the plot. Not without its flaws, but arguably the best entry of The Terminator franchise, this film is a solid:
An extended video version is also availble, plot and character depth is expanded upon, though the pacing suffers as a consequence.