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Video Review: Terminator 2 (1991)

August 18, 2011
  • Dir. James Cameron
  • Released by Tristar
  • Written by James Cameron and William Wisher
  • Rating ****
Original Laserdicks Review:
In 1990, director Bruno Mattei (After Death) and writer Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2) opted to make a low-budget Italian sequel to the low-budget American film The Terminator. Not to be outdone, James Cameron released an American sequel a year later with a budget that far exceeded that of The Terminator and the unofficial Terminator II combined. This film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not only trounces the suspect sequel that preceded it in every way possible, but it also challenges the first film for the title of the best entry in the series and sets the bar so high that no subsequent Terminator project has even come close to matching it.
Set in 1995, the film follows ten-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong), the future savior of humanity who was conceived on screen during the End of Act II Screw in the first film. His mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), now 29, resides in a mental institution under the careful watch of Earl Boen’s snide Dr. Silberman. She has transformed herself into somewhat of a Terminator over the decade,  reaching peak physical shape while simultaneously embracing the dehumanized warrior mentality displayed by her time-travelling late lover. This time, two Terminators arrive through time: a T-800 identical to the killer cyborg from the first film (Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing ironically off of his previous persona) and a prototype T-1000 (Robert Patrick) that employs mimetic abilities via a liquid metal chassis.
The story builds directly off of ideas from Cameron’s original tale, reinforcing and further exploring that film’s themes of humanism vs. determinism and the impact of technology on humanity. Whole sequences from the 1984 film receive parallel sequences in the sequel. The fresh plot points also derive from ideas conceived back in 1984, such as the shape-shifting villain and the possibility of preventing the prophesied apocalypse with preemptive action. The film even uses a line from the original treatment and deleted scenes of the first movie, “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” as the heroes’ main mantra.
However, the massively increased budget and the groundbreaking advancements in computer generated imagery result in a movie that feels quite different from its predecessor. This sequel is far more a summer blockbuster than an exploitation thriller, and the scale of the action is far grander (at the expense of horror). The entire project is far more mainstream and accessible, despite still being an R-rated film, and the inclusion of a youthful protagonist has allowed it to resonate with younger audiences as well. Even the future war is a little less nightmarish and a little more dazzling.
Even so, the movie is still quite tense, and Patrick is far scarier as the T-1000 than Schwarzenegger ever was, especially since he can disguise himself, form blades with his hands, take far greater damage, and often appear more distinctly inhuman (all thanks to a combination of excellent Stan Winston effects and still-impressive CGI from ILM). Arnold plays the reprogrammed hero Terminator (sent back by the human resistance) straight-faced, thus assuring that the jokes made at his expense are not too compromising to his credibility (see Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines as an example of the humor completely undermining Arnie’s deadly persona).
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an ideal example of a thought-provoking blockbuster, and it is arguably smarter than its predecessor (undoubtedly smarter than the previously-mentioned Italian film). The film exists in two main forms, a theatrical cut and an extended special edition. Either version is great, but the longer cut makes the experience even richer. (A yet longer cut appears as an Easter Egg on the Ultimate Edition DVD, featuring the original sequel-proof ending.) T2 defined the subsequent franchise even more than the original film did, and it has served as the template for most of the later projects. James Cameron would have little to do with his creation after this film (other than participating in a 3D short film for Universal Studios theme parks), but he left the saga with a second chapter that manages to feel both necessary (although technically it’s not) and conclusive (even though later entries would follow).

From → Film Criticism

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