Terminator 2: Judgment Day

One of the best sequels ever made, and the film that paved the way for all future effects movies.

Released in 1991, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 01 Aug 2003 by Drew Tavendale
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Having made a name for himself with 1984's The Terminator, James Cameron put his story of the time-travelling cyborg behind him and turned to other projects, such as Aliens and The Abyss, but there was always a clamouring from the fans of his breakthrough picture for a sequel. Their pleas fell on deaf ears, but for every year that went by without a sequel, the call for one got even more vocal, and finally, in 1991, Cameron called up Mr. Schwarzenegger and made Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Set in 1991, the plot this time around is similar ? a killing machine is despatched to the past in an attempt to change the outcome of the future war twixt man and machines, and once again the resistance are able to send back a lone soldier to see that it doesn't succeed. The difference is that rather than strike at Sarah Connor, the machine's target is John Connor himself, the boy who will one day grow up to become the leader of the human resistance in the war. There is one other major difference in T2, and this is that both sides have sent back Terminators, human-looking, ruthlessly efficient killing machines, to do the job.

Having captured and reprogrammed a T-101, the same model that featured in The Terminator, the T-101 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back by the resistance to find John (Edward Furlong) before the nasty, evil cyborg does. But technology has come on since the machine's last assassination attempt, and their operative is a nifty new model, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), made entirely from a poly-mimetic liquid alloy (liquid metal that can assume any solid form of equal mass).

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Time travels always throws up problems in movies, and Cameron has taken the prudent route and simply decided to ignore them. One thing that can't be ignored, though, is the enormous mathematical error in the film. In May 1984, when Kyle Reese arrived from the future, John Connor was not born. Indeed, he could not have been born until 1985, so quite how we find John in 1991 as a 13-year old is beyond me. Perhaps they developed a time accelerator in 1988 that I am unaware of?

Still, T2 is not the kind of movie best served by thinking too much about, so let's not. Instead let's concentrate on the action. We are first introduced to John at his foster parents' home in Los Angeles (his mother having been locked in a secure mental institution for insisting the world will end and trying to blow shit up), and rather than the budding leader of men we might expect, we find he is in fact a foul-mouth, ill-behaved delinquent with no respect for anything. Heading off to the games arcade, stopping off to use a stolen ATM card on the way, John is located by the T-1000, disguised as a police officer, and must run for his life.

There follows one of the major set-pieces of the movie - a breathtaking chase down the Los Angeles river with John and the T-101 on motorbikes and the T-1000 close behind in a vast black semi. Replete with vast explosions, impressive stunt driving and some genuine edge-of-your seat moments, Cameron has created one of the most memorable chase sequences ever seen on film. What may worry you is that the movie would be all downhill from hereon in, but worry ye not, for there is much more to come.

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Escaping the T-1000, Arnie and his young charge set off to rescue Sarah Connor (an incredibly buffed Linda Hamilton) from the mental institution, stopping off on the way for some plot exposition and John's discovery that he has his own personal terminator (some kids have all the luck). After successfully doing so, we are treated to more exposition of the history of the man-machine war and Judgment Day itself, prompting our heroes to do something to try and stop it.

They pay a visit to the home of one Miles Bennett Dyson, the man most directly responsible for the creation of Skynet, the hugely powerful military computer that starts the nuclear war and brings about Judgment Day (August 29th 1997, when more than 3/5 of the human population is destroyed). Laying on him the small matter of him being to blame for 3 billion deaths, they enlist his help in destroying all of his and his colleagues' research into neural-net processors and cybernetics (their work being based on the remnants of the first terminator, that Sarah Connor crushed in the press at the end of The Terminator) to try and avert the war.

All the while the ever-present menace of the T-1000 haunts them, and they must not only contend with swarms of police but this most ruthless and dangerous of enemies. After destroying the Cyberdyne factory in a most impressive explosion, the rest of the movie becomes again a chase, with the T-1000 pursuing them intent on sending them to their grave, culminating in an atmospheric showdown in a factory.

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It would be easy, given the similarities between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day to suggest that James Cameron had simply re-made in large part his original movie, but this would be to do him a great disservice. Rather, he has created a quite wonderful visual poetry with the two films, a series of rhyming couplets tying them together ? Schwarzenegger's T-101 being thrown through a plate glass window, the protagonists escaping from an overturned pick-up as a truck driven by the antagonist barrels down on them, the clothing chosen by Arnie's T-101, constant images of human artefacts being crushed underfoot by machines and a climactic show-down in a factory. All of this is in keeping with one of the major themes of the film ? that of inescapable destiny.

Other themes from the first film are here too, most importantly the dangers of nuclear weapons (both Terminator movies are decidedly anti-nuclear weapon films), and Cameron's main theme ? the potential misuse of technology, which could in the end lead to human subservience to their own creations.

Though not quite as tightly directed or as tense as the original Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still an incredibly enjoyable movie. It is also very visually satisfying, in large part due to the impressive visual effects created by George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, who had created, in Robert Patrick's liquid metal alter-ego, the world's first CGI main character, in the process making ILM a household name. Though some of the effects have been, expectedly, superseded in subsequent years, so look a little dated, some still stand up to scrutiny today, one of the most memorable examples of this being the absolutely seamless scene when Robert Patrick's T-1000 walks straight through a set of solid bars. Add to this timeless stunt sequences, and Brad Fiedel's menacing score, and you have one of the greatest action movies ever.

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Acting wise, there are few complaints. Linda Hamilton, whose character Sarah Connor has progressed from demure waitress to bad-ass action mum, is convincingly tough and single-minded, and Schwarzenegger slips back into his most famous role as if there had been no gap between movies. Robert Patrick also looks suitably mean as the evil terminator, which leaves Edward Furlong. Though a good actor, he does come across as a whiny brat, but then he is playing a 13-year old, so I think we can forgive him on this count.

Having viewed it countless times by now, I have no hesitation in awarding Terminator 2: Judgment Day a full 5 marks.

James Cameron
Cast list:
Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Good Terminator)
Robert Patrick (The Bad Terminator)
Edward Furlong (The Ugly Termina? no, sorry, John Connor)
Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor)