Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Even before the first bullet is shot, we are already convinced that the antagonist, a T-1000 cyborg (Robert Patrick) made out of liquid metal with the terrifying—and convenient—ability to shape-shift, is more advanced than the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent to protect future Resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong): it is capable of passing as human even when it speaks. Observe closely when the T-1000 questions various individuals regarding the boy’s whereabouts. Because it is sleeker, more efficient, and more versatile, tension ramps up almost immediately; we are made to understand the stakes without relying on expository dialogue—one of the qualities that made “The Terminator” a successful sci-fi action picture.
Aside from a few throwback lines, the work is uninterested in repeating itself. Notice how quickly it introduces the two cyborgs from 2029 as they are teleported to 1995. Although cheeky humor remains, the pacing is faster and less effort is put into ensuring that the viewers notice the visual effects. Assumption is made that those watching have seen the previous film and so this time around various elements are turned inside-out: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is tougher, rougher, worn-out; the Terminator is now a good guy; action sequences are bigger, longer, and choreography behind them more complex. It is clear that the work has been given more budget. It shows both in what can be seen and felt on screen.
The writing is more ambitious. There is an implied sadness in the relationship between Sarah and John, how their fight against the realization of Skynet in the past has sacrificed so much of their current lives and possibly their future. For instance, when the mother sees her son for the first time in months, possibly years, her instinct is not to embrace him but to check whether he has been shot or is hurt in anyway. The screenplay by James Cameron and William Wisher, the former directing the film, does a neat trick: the more it avoids sentimentality, the more the viewers become desperate for that teary mother-son moment. And I’m not sure we are ever provided that moment. Maybe the Connors isn’t that type of family.
Another interesting relationship is between John and the T-800. It begins as a boy-and-his-dog story as John teaches the cyborg catchphrases, silly banters, and how to give a high five—for the boy’s own amusement as well as for the T-800 to be able to blend in a bit a more. But toward the end of the picture, it explores a sort of father-son dynamic. Most interesting, however, is it does not go all the way; it teases the audience and then leaves us wanting more. These calculated decisions in the screenplay exhibit intelligence, a freshness, and a willingness to take risks. It is not the kind of sequel that is low energy, redundant, simply cashing in on what came before. It is willing to explore new territories and ideas.
Like “The Terminator,” action scenes—as wonderful and eye-popping as they are—do not come into my mind first when considering “T2” as a whole. Every single one stands out, from an early chase between an 18-wheeler and a motorcycle on a spillway to the final jaw-dropping showdown at a steel plant. They are memorable because each encounter is different. The environment almost always impact how the characters must fight and attempt to outsmart the enemy.
It is without question that director James Cameron put a lot of thought in this next chapter. His love for his story, the characters, and creating explosive special and visual effects can be felt in every frame of this movie. Criticisms regarding the bloated middle portion are justified. But the film is so entertaining when firing on all cylinders, the slower sections actually give the viewers a chance to breathe and prepare for the next exhilarating showdown.