Terminator 2 is pretty much delivering the same movie as the 1984 original. It is a chase film. A machine from the future goes back to “terminate” someone from the past in an attempt to change a coming war. The rebellious humans send back their own protector and the two fight, destroying buildings, killing the innocent and eventually clashing in a steam-filled factory finale. The difference is that Judgement Day adds much more interesting elements that never feels like the movie lulls or begins to lose direction (like the first did in places).
The first of the major changes to help this work is that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role changes to the hero rather than the villain. This manages to make the movie feel fresh without really changing that much. Having Arnie on the more recognisable side of hero means we get more from the character from than just a few words and lots of shooting.
I’m not saying he is now delivering huge exposition but he is utilised as more of a “human” role, learning to adapt and fit in as a way of protecting the new target, John Connor, played by Edward Furlong. This is another massive change from the first and brings the most appealing element of the new movie – the “father-son” dynamic that emerges between The Terminator and young John Connor. It means we get more humour, compassion and higher stakes in some cases.
Sarah Connor is still in the movie though and it is a great transformed role from Linda Hamilton. She is not the scared, over-whelmed waitress from the first movie but is instead a battle-ready, traumatised soldier, preparing her son and trying to bring down the on-coming apocalypse. It’s amazing to see the effect the years have had on her and it delivers a new approach to the character, demonstrating the lasting effect of the first films events. Post-traumatic stress and insanity are explored, with very graphic dreams that Sarah Connor encounters.
The best character addition is the new villain filling Arnie’s shoes. This is when the movie comes alive and delivers the most creative elements. The T-1000, brought to life by the excellently creepy Robert Patrick, is an upgraded, liquid-metal Terminator. It means he can create spikes, hammers and such with his arms, as well as instantly recover from any gun shots or injuries. All of this is delivered with amazing special effects, especially for 1991. It also helps that these effects still stand-up today and don’t jar by being outdated.
The movie is still a chase film though. It is T-1000 trying to kill John Connor. The difference from the first is that this is done with much more spectacle. The first major chase through the large storm drains, Arnie on a bike and the T-1000 in a big-rig, is impressive. It has huge crash and smash, some impressive stunts and a suitably explosive pay-off. This continues to the hospital with a more tense stand-off and eventually to the large showdown in the nondescript, convenient factory.
In fact, when the T-1000 is on-screen, the movie comes alive and is much better than the forty minutes in the middle where he disappears. James Cameron develops the tale further, trying to move away from just the chase dynamic and adding in the story of Judgement Day itself. It leaves a T-1000-less gap while the group violently subvert and avoid the end of humanity. This is the area where the film begins to drag slightly, even if some of the ideas and the visuals are very striking.
It also doesn’t help the movie that The Terminator begins to become more of a “human” character and playing against the relentless killing machine from the first movie. He delivers one-liners which don’t make much sense (most of all “I need a vacation” which comes from nowhere). Many people applaud the final moments between The Terminator and John but it makes me cringe, feeling forced and out-of-place.
This doesn’t take away from how good the rest of the movie is though. There is so much to love about the film that I couldn’t possibly have covered everything. I haven’t mentioned the sequences in the hospital and the creepy doctors or the effective links back to the first film which makes for a good foundation to the larger story.
Overall, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is an incredible spectacle. It takes the best elements of the first movie and builds in a much grander, more impressive story. Arnie is now the hero, a role that fits better, John Connor plays against the Terminator well while dealing with his militant Mum, a transformed Linda Hamilton. Add to this a creepy Robert Patrick as the villain and you can overlook the slightly dull forty minutes that tries to build upon the simple chase premise.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)