Terminator 2 (1991) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Terminator 2 (1991)

It was the summer on 1991; I was anxiously awaiting the sequel to a beloved 80’s classic that promised to be bigger than the original in every way.  I was looking forward to it for weeks before it was released and was extremely excited when my dad decided to take me to it.  When we got to the theatre, I learned he did a bait and switch on me.   He had no desire to see Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, but instead was set on giving me my first glimpse of a James Cameron film with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Within the first few minutes of the film, I forgot all about Bill and Ted and what kind of journey they were going to embark on and sat enthralled by the film.

You can't stop the T-1000, you can only hope to contain him.

When I saw T2 (authors note, I am using the marketing ploy of T2 for the rest of this review because it takes a lot less time to write, if you have problems with it, I strongly suggest you stay far away when I get to my Independence Day write up) I was 10 years old and had not experienced much in the way of uncensored violence.   I had seen most James Bond films by then, loved Die Hard, watched GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But I was not prepared for this onslaught of action, story and spectacle that was about to blast into my eyeballs. T2 is, in my opinion, James Cameron’s finest work and one of the best examples of woman kicking ass in films. It is also the best instance of what is capable when you worry about action, effects AND story equally. It has been a few years since I had seen the film from beginning to end.  So when I watched it again I was nervous about the movie maybe losing some of its power, but I had no need to worry because the movie is just as great as it was when I was a young kid. I was again being wowed by explosions, gunfights and scary looking robots. T2 is a classic because:

  • It has one of the most memorable and rocking scores in recent history.  While writing all of the pieces for the 30 Years at the Top, I noticed that most of the biggest movies had very memorable scores/soundtracks.  Indiana Jones, E.T., Star Wars, Batman, and Titanic are movies you can’t think of without humming a few bars of the theme song and Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Aladdin, Forrest Gump all had huge selling soundtracks.  I think that sight and sound go hand in hand and if either the visual or music isn’t working, the film will not register that much.  Thankfully, Terminator had a great theme and it makes T2 feel even more epic.  When that synth and base line start hitting and you hear the familiar “boom boom boom ba boom” you know something is about to happen that you don’t want to miss.
  • T2 is still in the top 5 if not top 3 of best action films ever.  While the first Terminator was more of a horror movie with the unstoppable and invincible robot hunting down our human heroes.  T2 is turned into a rollicking action film thanks to the decision to turn the T-800 (Arnold) into the good guy and have him battle it out against the even T-1000 (Robert Patrick), an updated and even more ruthless terminator.  With 2 unkillable machines, you can put them through anything and not worry about believability.  The terminators riddle each other with bullets, throw one another through walls, buildings and off moving vehicles, and they try their best to blow you other up.  Cameron knew he could do all of this and keep the momentum cranked up because they don’t need time to heal and they don’t die.  What does rack the tension up is Arnold is trying to protect two fragile humans, so even though he could take a sledgehammer to the face, he has to make sure the future of the human race and his mother don’t get into the destructions path.

    One of the best examples of strong women in action films.

  • The effects in the film were groundbreaking and awe-inspiring, but Cameron never let the spectacle take over the story.  Although I really liked the TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles and thought the third film was fun I really wished the series would have been done and finished after T2, because Cameron wrapped up everything so tidy and neat.  In the years following T2 movies became more concerned about the effects and less about the story, but in this filmall action pieces and special effects were there to compliment the story that was driving everything.  The theme of choice vs. fate, good vs. evil and knowing the future vs. creating your own was everything in the film.  In a perfect world the Terminator saga would have ended with the voiceover of Linda Hamilton talking about the unknown while the screen faded out from a lonely and dark road.

Unfortunately the franchise did not end on that perfect coda, but kept chugging along because it was making everyone tons of money. With added movies, games and TV shows it does make it easier to pinpoint what was great and special in this one compared to all the future projects. These are my picks about what made this chapter so enthralling.

  • Edward Furlong was easily the best John Connor.  Competition isn’t too fierce on this front, but Furlong should be commended for what he did accomplish.  As we have seen from future movies and shows it is very easy for Connor to turn into a whiny bitch.  Yet in T2 Connor showed love, compassion, leadership and strength. And it was easy to see how this boy could turn into the leader of all men during their darkest hour.  Other John Connor’s I wouldn’t want t leading me to a table if their were a host at a restaurant and especially not leading me into battle with a far superior foe.
  • T2 had heart that is lacking from future chapters.  This goes back to the great portrayal of John Connor, but for a movie that is teeming with gunfights and fireballs the film has a very big sentimental streak.  The bonding between man and machine (which is much more evident in the superior directors cut) is really touching.  Thanks to Furlong and Schwarzenegger, in his finest performance, you believe that Connor and the Terminator do create a bond close to father and son and when the T-800 sacrifices himself at the end, you feel more emotion then is typical in an action film.
  • At this time, the timeline had not yet twisted into knots. Terminator 1 and 2 had a simple timeline for the movies.  A.I. was created on X, Machines revolt at Y and John Connor leads the revolution on Z.  The terminators were out to get rid of humanity’s last hope by first killing the mom of the unborn John and then trying to kill John as a young kid.   This was simple story telling that made for fun films and by the end of the second film everything is wrapped up in a nice bow.  Then Terminator 3 happened and contradicted most of what happened in the first 2.  The TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles went insane with its version of when and where events happened and even had some characters jumping into the future at different points.  By the time Terminator Salvation came out, the timeline wasn’t so much a line but more of a curly Q.  Terminator 2 was the last time the story telling was simple and I appreciate that in light of what came out after.

Terminator 2 is a bridge type movie for action spectacles.  It ended the 80’s machismo action films starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger etc and ushered in the films that cared more about special effects than anything else.  While James Cameron had bigger successes in the upcoming years with Titanic and Avatar, I believe this is where he hit his creative zenith.  No movie has ever balanced action, story, emotion, effects, explosions, and humor like T2. It is a testament to how good the movie is that Schwarzenegger can throw out cheesy one-liners left and right and it seems more endearing than clichéd. So thanks again dad for insisting we see this movie over the wacky exploits of Bill and Ted.  I honestly could not imagine never seeing this film on the big screen.

Posted by Ryan

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  1. The movie has always continued to grow on me particularly with how sad it really is. These characters are out to save the world but nobody knows about it, they’ll save everyone and not a single person will be able to thank them.

    • I like your thoughts and echo them. Taking control of your destiny sometimes means accepting your life isn’t going to be a grand narrative for others.

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