After watching the first Terminator film recently I developed a hankering to watch its sequel. For some reason I didn’t own a copy though. This was a troubling development as I was unsure how I could allow myself to reach the age of 33 without a copy of T2. Well, do not fret, for I have fixed this egregious error and have purchased for myself a blu-ray copy of the film, along with copies of Mad Maxes The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. So, without further ado… here’s my review of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
First off, bloody American spellings forcing me to spell judgement the US way. I shall endure though. Terminator 2 takes the simple causality loop of the original film and plants the first seeds of what would become the most stupidly convoluted plotline ever conceived for film. Thankfully, the time travel silliness is still nice and simple in T2. We’re nowhere near the ridiculousness of Terminator Genisys yet. So here’s the plot. It’s 1995 and a new liquid metal shape-shifting terminator designated as T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has been sent back in time to kill a 10 year old John Conner (Edward Furlong) at a point in his life when he’s most vulnerable. You see, his mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) is currently locked up in a mental institute, and so, can’t protect him. Luckily future John sent Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime back in time to protect the young him. They break Sarah out and then go on the run fighting the T-1000 and stopping Cyberdyne on the way.
See, it’s a little more complex that the first film but nowhere near requiring two paragraphs of nonsense to explain. Nice and simple. T2 was made at the peak of James Cameron’s skills and, whilst I consider Aliens and even the first Terminator to be better films, this is easily his master work. The film has examples of everything he was good at in the early stages of his career, and also all the stuff he’s clearly forgotten since. The theatrical version of the film is so incredibly paced that you’d think it was a film form of the mathematical equation for fun delivery over a visual medium. The extended edition kind of messes that pacing up in the first hour and adds a few small, but decent, moments to the finale but, in general, it’s not too damaging to the film overall. I do recommend the theatrical cut though. This isn’t like Aliens Special Edition where every extra moment really added to the film. All the extra scenes are pure padding in T2’s extended versions.
One thing I was reminded of as I was watching the film the other night was how many shots just would not happen in a modern James Cameron film. At least half the scenes of John chatting with the T-800, teaching him how to blend in, would be gone. He’d see that as filler getting in the way of the next big action scene. Those slow moments where the camera takes in the scenery in the film’s middle section, such as right before Sarah’s nightmare scene, would have been skipped over too. He just doesn’t make films like this anymore. He aims for the finish line and rushes there, yet, somehow, makes his films 3 hours long in the process leading to absolute tedium. By the way, I didn’t like Avatar… or Titanic. T2 is shot so much better than anything he’s made since and it’s because he took his time. The film feels richer because characters were consistent and developed in a natural manner. He managed to make the killing machine of the first film into a full fledged character with a desire to learn and a compulsion to protect. By the time he figures out why we cry The Terminator is a more developed character than anyone in Titanic of Avatar. True Lies too for that matter, butt hat film is actually a hell of a lot of fun so I don’t want to be mean to it.
I remember when T2 came out people were going crazy for its special effects work. Not since Tron had a film had so much effort and time poured into its digital effects. The standout effect is essentially the first digital human character with realistic human motion. The T-1000s liquid morphing effect required effects such as this and, at the time, people considered it mind blowingly good. I still see a few people advocating that these effects work just as well today. They don’t. Now the animation looks clunky and some of the transitions are a little rough. That said, it works well within the context of the film and is a clear example of the effects technicians understanding the limitations and working within them. Essentially they used rotoscoping to get a more realistic animation than ever before and employed a lot of reflection map work to help plant the T-1000’s liquid metal form in the real world. It still plays well enough but the stunts (barring some iffy Arnie masks) and practical effects outshine it now.
Let’s discuss a great scene in this film. Early on, the first time we see the T-800, we get one of the greatest introduction scenes of all time. The T-800 walks into a biker bar all nude and stuff, assess the bikers, picks one guy out and demands his boots, clothes and motorcycle. This biker refuses, due to a lack of a “please” and the T-800 proceeds to wreck shop until he gets his own way. The scene is topped off with the T-800 taking the shotgun and shades of the bar owner and riding off to Bad to the Bone. That is an amazing scene. It’s so iconic they chose it as the scene to parody for a recent Terminator DLC announcement for the new WWE 2K16 game. One problem with the scene though… See, if you know nothing of the sequel after seeing the first you’re sat here watching the villain be the coolest damn cyborg in the world. Now Cameron knew everyone would know Arnie was the good guy by the time the film comes out, but when you think about that scene within the context of the film’s universe leading on from the last, it’s really quite odd.
But this was also very smart. It made you prepared to root for the classic Terminator and set up the brilliant juxtaposition of the T-1000 taking the form of a police officer. See, we’re meant to see the police as protectors… well, we did back then… trust me… so when the villain turns up and starts stabbing people in the eyes with finger knives whilst dressed as a cop, well, that’s some fresh story twisting right there. Now the evil cop trope has been done to death. But then, this was pretty new, outside the Maniac Cop films. Add to that the fact that the T-1000 is nowhere near as physically intimidating as the T-800, yet is capable of so much more, and you’ve an interesting match up. Everything Robert Patrick does as the T-1000 adds to his intimidation factor an this overall sense of creepiness. He converses like a human, something the T-800 can barely do. He understands how people think and switches from calm tracking to crazed pursuit in an instant. The T-1000 is a classic film villain.
The film is a driven by a pure desire to keep the chase up and keep the characters developing. Seeing Sarah Conner go through so many stages of trauma as she’s abused, becomes violent to escape, fearful of the machine, desperate to stop judgment day entire and eventually trusting and in control is entirely how a strong character should shown. She goes through various trials and overcomes them all. Her emotional traumas are always there and the toll of her life is always clear, but she keeps moving on. Her moral compass is a little off centre, but it’s not entirely broken. All the while Sarah is pushing the events forward and taking the plot in directions the original premise wouldn’t have allowed for. Remember that the T-800’s sole goal was to protect John. Not to break Sarah out, not to take down Cyberdyne and not to help prevent judgment day. I mentioned Cameron’s more recent films just rushing to the end. They do so at the expense of character and plot. Here the plot twists and turns and characters are shown going through phases. This is why Cameron was once a great.
In the end you don’t really need me to tell you how good Terminator 2 is. It’s a damn fine action sci-fi movie and one of the greatest blockbuster films of all time. While I prefer the first film for its simplicity, efficiency and mood, I can totally understand someone preferring T2. In fact, the vast majority of people do. And that’s cool. As long as you know why you like it and know why it’s so much better than every terminator film that followed. Because fuck those films. Well, fuck Salvation anyway. The other two didn’t anger me at least. They were dull and stupid but at least they weren’t painful. Terminator 2 craps all over those films and says “Hasta La Vista” to them as it flushes them away.