Watch this as soon as you can…
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (T2) is surely one of the greatest sequels of all time. Everything great about the original is plugged into an amplifier and made even better. The special effects are more cutting-edge than before, and still hold up nearly thirty years later. Its storyline has a much wider scope. Yet, the depth of exploration of its very human characters gets deeper. This film is a science-fiction landmark and should be watched as soon as you can.
At the time, this was one of the most expensive movies ever made, and you can really tell by the visuals. The budget of the first movie was multiplied by twelve to around $100 million dollars. This allows for an even more menacing Terminator than the original, the T-1000 (Patrick), created from liquid metal. Somehow, this villain feels even more unstoppable. The incredible and unbearably tense score helps, but this is mainly due to the astonishing special effects that still hold up nearly thirty years later. This menacing machine feels less tangible and more slithery- how can you stop a machine you can barely hurt? The action sequences, involving motorbike jumps and helicopter crashes on the highway, feel like they are really happening too. Cameron is known for state of the art visual effects, and this film is another splendid showcase of his talents. This is a film with a wider scope: the action sequences are more explosive, the locations range further across America, and the stakes have never been higher. Fortunately, the visual effects are able to keep up.
Cameron’s sequel would not be as memorable if it did not improve on the story of the original. It may initially seem like a rerun of , for, akin to the first movie, two naked humanoids are sent back in time to battle for the fate of John Connor, the future leader of the resistance in the war against the machines. One has been sent to protect him. One has been sent to end his life before he can grow to become the leader he eventually becomes. The opening premise is the same, but there is a shock twist this time: the T-800 model terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the one protecting Connor. The scene revealing this twist is a magnificent and satisfying payoff for a growing tension as both Terminators spend the opening act looking for John Connor. Who will find John Connor first? And who has been sent to kill him? The casting of Schwarzenegger, who played the villainous terminator last time, and the smaller, less threatening Patrick, dressed as a cop, serves as a smart red herring. The original did not have such a memorable twist so early on. Already, this sequel’s narrative is shaping up to be an improvement.
Following this twist comes the film’s greatest addition to the formula of the original film: the father-son dynamic between John Connor (Edward Furlong) and the T-800. Before, John was not even conceived in the womb; Sarah Connor (Hamilton) was the one in need of protection from the rugged but handsome Kyle. This set up leads into a cliche and predictable romance, even if well-written. To include a father-son dynamic between machine and human was a genius idea. It proves to be the emotional core of the film. It is unique and abnormal, yet touch and utterly convincing. Both characters learn from each other, and you can really feel the growing love between them. It is gentle, tender and moving. It is not just randomly added, for it has significance in relation to Cameron’s original sci-fi film. The substitute “father” looks exactly the same as the robot who killed the real father, and tried to kill the mother. Sarah has a much more difficult time trusting and believing the integrity of the T-800, which allows for fascinating character conflict. By the end, this is reconciled, but it is too late. Just as the parent child dynamic is finally in harmony, it is snatched away. The ending likely left many men blaming hay-fever for the water in their eye, but it is the perfect ending to this father-son relationship. It really is the film’s greatest asset, serving as its emotional core, allowing for interesting conflicts, and setting up a superb, tear-jerking ending.
Despite a wider scope for action and visuals, the focus on character has been enhanced. This film builds upon the original whilst also introducing new dynamics and relationships. The villain may be a thrilling and exciting threat that keeps you hooked throughout, but it is the core relationship between father and son that separates this science-fiction film from the myriad of others released before and after. The word “masterpiece” is often overused, so used sparingly on this blog. Surely a film as visually stunning and moving as T2 deserves such a label.