Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Director: James Cameron
“Hasta la vista, baby”
On par with other brilliant action sequels like The Dark Knight (2008) or The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and especially James Cameron’s other iconic sequel Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day is as close to a flawless science fiction action/adventure film as it gets. The film employs just enough of the same ideas from its much grittier predecessor (released 6 years prior in 1984) while also introducing complex new dynamics. It is also a well-celebrated film for its innovative Oscar-winning CGI which still stands the test of time to this day and it was also the most expensive film to date at the time of its release. There are few other movies that succinctly capture the ethos of American culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In my view Terminator 2 is the best installment in the Terminator series and I think the saga really should have ended with this film.
Terminator 2 begins as two terminators are sent back in time from the future. Both are in search of a teenager named John Connor (Edward Furlong), a boy who will one day grow up and lead the human resistance against the machines when civilization collapses –in 1997! Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an advanced android sent from the future, this time he is programmed to protect John Connor (in the first film he was sent to kill Sarah Connor). The other terminator is a T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a highly advanced android composed of liquid metal who can assume the visage of any other person (the effects borrowed techniques employed in James Cameron’s 1989 deep sea adventure film The Abyss). The T-1000 morphs into a cold and calculating police officer –unironically a symbol of safety and order– as he carefully searches for John Connor. As in any thriller, the key to the story is a great villain and by all measures Robert Patrick’s seemingly indestructible T-1000 succeeds to a remarkable degree.
The high octane action jumps from one scene to the next as Schwarzenegger’s terminator narrowly rescues John from the T-1000 in an arcade and they quickly escape to rescue John’s mother, Sarah Connor (reprised by Linda Hamilton as well as her twin sister) from her imprisonment in an insane asylum. From here they flee to a remote bunker in Mexico, hoping to avoid any confrontation with the T-1000, as Sarah hatches a plan to kill Tim Dyson (Joe Morton), an engineer who works for Cyberdyne –a company developing the artificial intelligence technology that will one day launch Skynet, a company whose androids cause the downfall of humanity. However, Sarah cannot bring herself to murder Dyson in front of his whole family — she refuses to become a terminator. This theme of family and friendship runs throughout the film, whereas in the first film there was more of a romantic subplot, the sequel concerns John Connor’s quest for a father.
The close relationship between John and Schwarzenegger’s terminator is endearing and it offers a welcome bit of levity throughout the film, which makes their final departure particularly emotionally gripping. When the T-1000 is finally destroyed in a vat of molten steel in the end, Schwarzenegger’s terminator soon realizes he must also sacrifice himself in the vat in order to eliminate all of Skynet’s technology from the earth. It is a bittersweet, almost sorrowful end to the film, particularly for John Connor who has lost his best friend, sole protector, and only fatherly figure he has ever known.
Terminator 2 expands upon the growing body of science fiction literature expressing skepticism toward the progress of technology. It is also a terrific blend of action and sentimentality. Notably, each of the three main characters in the film undergo a remarkable growth/transformation by the end: John Connor begins the film as a rebellious youth who then spends the rest of the film trying to teach his terminator protector about appropriate modes of behavior; Schwarzenegger’s terminator is programmed to be able to learn and mimic human actions so his act of self-sacrifice at the conclusion is particularly noble; and of course Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is wholly transformed from the innocent waitress we met in the original film into a confident and battle-hardened mercenary who is nevertheless unable to allow herself sink as low as the ruthless killing terminators. She is an example of humanity’s superiority to androids.