Terminator 2: Judgement Day retrospective

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

With the release of Terminator : Dark Fate approaching later this month, it seems like the ideal time to revisit the defining instalment in this rather troubled franchise. James Cameron’s sequel to 1984’s The Terminator is monumental for many reasons, not least because it is perhaps the best example of a sequel that is ‘bigger and better’ than its predecessor.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day follows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John Connor (Edward Furlong) as they are pursued by a new, more lethal terminator: the shapeshifting, liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) who is sent back in time to kill John Connor and prevent him from becoming the leader of the human resistance against Skynet. At the same time, a less advanced T-800 terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent back to protect John and terminate the T-1000.

Released in the summer of 1991, the nearly three decade old film was not only a gamechanger for the character and the franchise, but it also redefined the blockbuster action movie as audiences knew it. With a budget of $102 million, T2 was the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release. The impressive visual effects allowed for a massive breakthrough in the capabilities of CGI, with the film including the first ever use of natural human motion for a partially CG character (the T-1000).

What makes T2 unique is how radically different and subversive it is against its predecessor. T2 is ultimately an inversion of the original film.

First of all, the characterisation of Sarah Connor is drastically altered: in the original, she was a regular young woman who soon became a damsel in distress with typical bouffant 80’s hair, barely escaping the T-800’s clutches. A decade later in T2, Sarah Connor is a lean and physically ferocious woman with soldier-like capabilities. Linda Hamilton trained 18 hours per week for 13 weeks with a former Israeli commando so that she could shed 12 pounds of fat and build muscle. The results undeniably spoke for themselves. Once a likeable, everyday waitress in the original, Cameron gave audiences a Sarah Connor that was quite frankly a bad ass action hero, and one of the greatest heroines to ever grace the screen.

Schwarzenegger also goes from portraying the evil T-800 to playing nice, hence the villain is now the hero. This new T-800 is not just a saviour in the form of a machine hiding beneath a human exterior, but a paternal figure and protector to John Connor who goes on to establish a semblance of humanity within this killer cyborg. The line “I’ll be back” doesn’t function to unsettle, but instead to comfort and reassure.

The film explodes with mesmerising action sequences, stunts and violence, the kind of which had never been done on film before. The action is simply that good and more impressive is the fact that the ground-breaking visual and practical effects hold up brilliantly even today. The film’s complexity however, arises from its emotional intelligence and warmth as exemplified within the chemistry between Sarah, John and the T-800. Despite the sense of urgency that dominates the film throughout, there’s also a surprisingly hopeful message too as signified by the T-800’s thumbs up coming out of the molten metal during the final climax.

“It has to end here”, the T-800 tells John Connor.

Maybe it should have, but it sure didn’t. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015) all followed, none stepping up to the scope and quality of T2.

Terminator: Dark Fate sees the return of James Cameron in the role of producer and storywriter. One can’t help but be hopeful that this new entry in the franchise may finally come close to the quality of the first two films now that the franchise Godfather is back in some capacity.

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