Time for another movie review! Last weekend I watched and reviewed The Terminator; today I’m digging into the sequel! Read on for my thoughts on Terminator 2: Judgement Day (And please beware of lots of spoilers!)…
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines. The computer which controlled the machines, Skynet, sent two Terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, my son. The first Terminator was programmed to strike at me in the year 1984, before John was born. It failed. The second was set to strike at John himself when he was still a child. As before, the resistance was able to send a lone warrior, a protector for John. It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first.” (Sarah Connor, voiceover)
In an observation that will no doubt surprise nobody, the very first thing we’re given to note about this movie is how it sticks to that well-known “rule” of sequels – it’s bigger, it’s louder, and there’s more of it. This one has all of the things I enjoyed about the first movie, and it has more stuff exploding. What’s not to love, right?
Weeellll… There’s another side to that coin, of course. But I’ll get to that…
“She’s not my mother, Todd.”
Enter the (technically not yet) fabled hero. If the first movie was the story of Sarah Connor’s harsh introduction to the reality of who and what she’s destined to be, then this one belongs to her son, John, in that same sense.
As a boy in the messy process of becoming a young man, John seems at first to be just another rebellious kid in foster care, resentful of that fact. But the man he’s going to become is one who has what it takes to rally the survivors of an apocalypse into a resistant fighting force, and it was always going to be important to let us see the shades of that man in the boy who’s dealing with the same nightmare his mother faced. What I love – and indeed, my biggest relief – about T2 is that when push comes to shove, it’s the young man and not merely the snarky rebellious boy who shines through.
“Did you call moi a dipshit?”
Hey, I did say “not merely”.
In their downtime between frantic races to evade the T-1000 (Robert Patrick on truly wonderfully creepy form, also upping the first movie’s game) or to stay ahead of it, John and the T-800 – now reprogrammed and sent back to protect him – provide some greatly appreciated humour as well as philosophical food for thought in their scenes together. As the boy, John immediately sees certain prominent benefits to having an unstoppable cyborg bodyguard always at his back, and for an enjoyable while the smart mouth gets free rein. As the young man, however, he shows the strength of heart and mind underneath it all in equally quick measure when he dials back that ego and stresses that his Terminator cannot simply kill people because they pose an immediate threat to him. Given how close humanity is to that aforementioned apocalypse, the cynical might reason that it hardly matters. On the other hand, it’s one thing that will never matter more. The ease with which John understands this is a clear sign that he may just be the right saviour for the job.
“On your feet, soldier.”
… But he can hardly do it on his own. It will take an army, however ragged, to take on Skynet, and all of that starts right here – with John, and with his mother.
When we come back to Sarah here, years after her own ordeal, she is not the same person she was. She is stronger, quicker, more prepared – and she’s harder. She lost Reese only hours after he came into her life, and in the course of trying to protect her son as best she could, she had him taken away from her. Sarah herself was committed to a mental facility, and it’s here we meet her again, wearier and just as afraid, but more determined than ever to survive.
It’s all of these things, perhaps, that lead her to attempt to kill Miles Dyson before he can engineer the supercomputer that will become Skynet – enabled by his possession of the original Terminator’s CPU and endoskeletal arm, apparently acquired in the aftermath of Sarah’s fight with said Terminator. Oops. Sarah’s reasoning – that if Miles never builds Skynet, then Judgement Day can never happen – isn’t entirely illogical. It’s just cold as hell, but then she’s had a long time spent locked up and inside her own head to get to that place. But, in another demonstration of his potential to become the man who’ll save humanity, John goes after her instead of staying out of harm’s way as Sarah intended him to.
This scene, in which John not only stands up to his mother in her moment of very dangerous desperation but makes the protection of Miles’ own son a priority (taking him out of the room before the T-800 begins his explanation of what’s going on), shows us in the clearest terms yet that the Resistance to come have the right man to lead them.
John Connor: So this other guy: he’s a Terminator like you, right?
The Terminator: Not like me. A T-1000, advanced prototype.
John Connor: You mean more advanced than you are?
The Terminator: Yes. A mimetic polyalloy.
John Connor: What the hell does that mean?
The Terminator: Liquid metal.
…Which, by the way, is every bit as unnerving to witness in action as the original Terminator was by the end of that movie. The special effects here are clearly given more metaphorical room to breathe – the higher budget means, as I noted earlier, that more stuff gets to blow up. It also means that this Terminator gets to be even more advanced, and even more impressive. The result is shinier, certainly, but it’s also an interesting touch of horror in what would otherwise be a straight-up action movie. As with the first movie, this is a nightmare scenario with pre-apocalypse trappings, and Robert Patrick gives a fantastic performance as the T-1000.
On the other side of the spectacular coin, however, is the (perhaps arguable) downside to the bigger budget – so much money is put into making this more of an action movie that, at times, I felt like it was taking time away from the story. I’m not saying that there isn’t still a good story here or that it’s not told well – it is. But the issue with this movie for me is that more time is spent giving Arnie stuff to blow up, apparently for the sake of doing so…
Don’t get me wrong; I love action movie explosions as much as the next person. But I like it best when it’s serving the story, not merely padding it out. The movie starts out strong in that sense, but particularly in the second half, I started to get a bit restless…
Maybe that’s just me, admittedly. But there it is. And I’m sorry but I definitely can’t excuse the whole thumbs-up-as-Arnie-goes bit at the end. That scene was so close to being done perfectly poignantly. SO CLOSE.
WHAT HAPPENED, JAMES CAMERON? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
This is my issue with James Cameron as a director, and it would be my issue with any director who fumbles the ball like this. You are doing a great job, Director Person. I am emotionally invested as well as impressed by the spectacle! This is great! NOW DO NOT RUIN IT WITH CRASSNESS.
But! All in all, these are relatively minor complaints. The story is the thing, and Terminator 2 is a strong sequel in that respect. Whether you’re here for the explosions or for the story, or indeed both, it will serve you well. I suspect I’ll always prefer the original movie just a little bit more, though…