While Arnold’s famed “I’ll be back” was cemented in the annals of movie history in 1984’s “The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” boasts what few sequels have been able to accomplish: to be heralded as better than the original. Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the terminator in this film, but with a twist – this time he’s the good guy. Both films (the latter released in 1991) were directed by James Cameron, but this time around the endeavor shows markedly improved casting, scriptwriting, and cinematography and special effects. One for action fans and lovers of sci fi alike, “Judgement Day” pleases on all levels.
The plot of the film is simple in it’s design, yet effective. Having glimpsed seemingly unavoidable nuclear war in the first film, Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) has been remanded to a psychiatric hospital, thought to be insane. Her warnings of impending doom fall on deaf ears. This is juxtaposed with shots of her wayward son John (Edward Furlong) – on a troubled path – coming to odds with his adoptive parents (his father played by fan favorite Xander Berkley of TV’s “24” fame). It’s now the ‘90s, and Skynet (the futuristic computer system fighting a war against the few remaining humans) sends a new, deadlier terminator to try and murder John – before he can become the hero of the war against them. The resistance also manages to send a protector – this time the newly coded Terminator from the first film (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in a mission to protect John at all costs.
From a production value standpoint, “Terminator 2” exceeds its predecessor on all levels. We first notice the improved scriptwriting, along with improved backdrops and special effects. The new Terminator, named T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) is an upgrade in every sense of the word. Made of liquid metal, he’s capable of such feats as turning into puddles to seep under doors and tight spots and turn his limbs into stabbing weapons of all kinds. He’s also played with a deadpan seriousness by Patrick, not flaunting enormous biceps like Arnold but a menacing prowess that lets us know from the beginning he’s a serious player. He kills a multitude of innocents; sometimes to get to John, sometimes because they are simply in his way.
Los Angeles is also painted in a different light this time around, cast mostly at night, enveloping the different locales the film takes place. It’s not all nightclubs and suburban houses this time around, but highway chases, high tech scientific development plants, and the aforementioned psychiatric hospital. In the film’s most exhilarating sequence, Arnold mounts a big rig truck the T-1000 is driving and empties an entire M4A1 into his target; the T-1000 simply shakes it off and keeps on coming.
The acting is solid all around. Arnold is of course flat affect all the way, but comes across more human through his interactions with John and Sarah as the movie progresses. He learns many things, such as new vocabulary and skills (the most humorous being using keys to start a car instead of ripping the transmission out with his fist, and incorporating words like ‘chill out’ into his repertoire). Hamilton is effective, although she melds into the background, commenting on the impending doom and watching over her son with a dutiful eye.
The film’s greatest asset in terms of character development is the bond between John and the Terminator, as the former learns to come of age, and the latter learns, almost imperceptibly, what it’s like to be human. The best source of their bonding comes as the Terminator first learns the value of human life, and, in the film’s most well written and heartbreaking sequence, what it is to be sad. The aforementioned Patrick excels all the way, and the film picks up another pleasing player halfway through, a scientist named Miles Dyson played wonderfully by Joe Morton. Their acting underscores a deeper element to the film; the wonderful scriptwriting brought to the table by James Cameron and William Wisher Jr.
The film’s special effects are top of the line. Explosions, car chases, death-defying stunts, and deadly fights between the two terminators that include horrifying hand-to-hand combat and an array of weaponry that makes “Saving Private Ryan” look conservative. Of course, the film is not without Arnold’s dry sense of humor, as when he jokes, after shooting a guard in the knee when he promised John not to kill anyone, “he’ll live.”
“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” is as effective as it is due to a perfect concert of writing, action, and special effects. Cameron sprinkles it with life lessons along the way, which make the picture about so much more than protecting your own or trying to save the day. And while it’s most horrifying sequence – a dream sequence detailing a nuclear bomb explosion in downtown L.A. is gut wrenching, “T2’s” greatest achievement is not in showing its race to stop this event, but in making the audience feel – through emotion and intricate detail – exactly what it is they are trying to save.
– by Mark Ziobro