By DELTON V. COX
James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day turned 25 on July 3. There’s very little that can be said of the 1991 blockbuster, given that it is still so beloved and referenced immeasurably by many to this very day. All you can do is celebrate its existence.
The first movie, The Terminator (1984) was the definition of a sleeper hit – a B-movie with a fantastical concept, made by a born filmmaker with a vision. The bigger-budgeted sequel was released seven years later to an even bigger critical and commercial reception, cementing already-established action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger as the biggest movie star in the world, and putting James Cameron up there with fellow master high-concept storytellers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
T2 is the definition of “bigger, badder and better”. At 137 minutes, it is lean, mean and brutally efficient. Indeed, the film’s plot is virtually a remake of the first Terminator, in which meek waitress Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) is stalked by a cyborg from the future. This time it’s her son John (Edward Furlong), the leader of the human resistance in the future war, who is being hunted by an advanced cyborg.
Even as the resistance sends another protector back to her time (Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese in the first, Arnold’s reprogrammed T-800 in the sequel), the enemy is still seemingly more advanced than the heroes.
I think what makes the film exceptionally good, even watching it today, is that it is relentless in its suspense. Cameron is shadowing Alfred Hitchcock here in his use of tension, especially during the action sequences, where the menacing T-1000 (Robert Patrick) continues to pursue our heroes, even as they throw everything they can at it.
Cameron also wisely takes a page or two from Mad Max creator George Miller, specifically The Road Warrior, for its spectacular, sensational chase scenes in which the power and strength of speeding tankers ratchet up the intensity of the stakes at hand.
The film is also a how-to on good character development and continuity, seeing that it is expanding the lore that the first film had established. The events of the first film transforms Sarah Connor from mild-mannered waitress to perhaps the greatest mama bear Hollywood has ever seen, never afraid of anything, not even a shape-shifting machine, to protect her little boy. She sets the tone for strong, sensationally feminist action heroines.
Schwarzenegger needs no introduction. That shotgun twirl of his is the single-most awesome moment I’ve ever witnessed in the movies. But I’m truly amazed at the fact that Cameron managed to make this cybernetic organism into an actual character with depth. For a seemingly emotionless cyborg, the big guy sure does learn a lot about human nature along the way, even adapting his systems to connect with John in an extremely unlikely yet heart-warming father/son bond.
The film’s biggest contribution to the industry is the still jaw-dropping CGI used for the T-1000. I can only imagine that the first reaction from audiences back in 1991 towards this computer-generated behemoth was that of complete amazement. It was nothing like they had ever seen at the time. Now, Hollywood has over-valued big budget CGI bonanzas as an indirect result of this film’s massive success – completely forgetting that T2 used CGI only when necessary and when complementing the stunts nicely without ever overshadowing them, the actors and the story. You can’t win them all, I suppose.
Years have passed and even as three mediocre sequels sank the franchise, they do not undo this film’s goodwill. Schwarzenegger since then has unwisely descended into shameless self-parody mode for the remainder of his acting career, while Cameron is “king of the world”, having made Titanic and Avatar.
T2, however, excitedly remains one of the greatest action and science fiction films – and sequels – of all time. For this fan, this was the catalyst that got him interested in films. I fondly remember wearing out the VCD and bawling my eyes out especially at the final scene, with the line, “I know now why you cry, but it’s something I can never do.”
It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make that line truly feel meaningful, especially coming from the character uttering it. Cameron pulls it off brilliantly.