Watching Terminator 2 again reminded me of the days before I hated James Cameron. His recent decline is honestly one of the biggest disappointments to me, because he was one of those directors whose work made me fall in love with an entire genre. Growing up, the Terminator series, Aliens, and The Abyss were all huge influences in what shaped my appreciation for science fiction/action films. As such, T2 is arguably the product of Cameron at the height of his powers, and I would pit it against any modern film of the same ilk with no reservations.
I think it’s fair to say that T2 is The Terminator with a twist, so the fact that Cameron basically made the same film twice with no diminishing returns speaks to his skill as a filmmaker.
In the original The Terminator, Arnold personified – to me, at least – fear. This time, he’s about as far removed from that character as he possibly could be. The film picks up years after the first, with Sarah Connor locked up in a mental hospital. Her son, John, is a young teen, and he lives with foster parents while Sarah deals with her mental “issues.” Once again, Arnold’s T-800 model terminator is sent back from the future, but his mission has changed. It turns out that John sent him back to protect himself and his mother from an even greater foe: the T-1000 model “liquid metal” terminator. Arnold’s opening scene rightfully still sets him up as a pants-shitting bad ass, but once he begins to interact with John, the difference between his character in the first film and this one is obvious. He’s now loyal, adaptable (in the extended cut, at least), and as close to a father figure as John has ever had. It takes some doing before Sarah really gets on board with him, but even she has to eventually acknowledge how much they need his help to survive.
So, the liquid terminator. That guy is one scary bastard. It’s odd that the actor who plays him, Robert Patrick, is probably half Arnold’s stature yet still 100% believable as an unstoppable killing machine. Just about every one of his appearances is coupled with some of the most ominous, disturbing sounds ever put to an action film. I get chills just thinking about the slow “waaaaa” of the score as he murders everyone he comes in contact with while searching for John. The first meeting between him and Arnold takes place in a back hallway of a mall, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever. Their fight is like something out of a monster movie: two titans grapple with each other while slamming into walls and destroying their surroundings. It’s actually a brief encounter, but it’s indicative of how the rest of the film will function. With the exception of the end sequence, every meeting between the liquid terminator and the heroes lasts only a few minutes. The meat of the film is about the relationship between Arnold, John, and Sarah.
I mentioned that Sarah eventually comes to admire the terminator, but before that happens, she really, really doesn’t trust him. In the extended cut of the film, there’s a crucial scene where Sarah and John reset his chip so he can learn about and adapt to human behavior. Well, she wanted to take the opportunity to smash the chip to bits, but John knows they need him to survive. He tells his mother that if he’s going to be a great leader someday, she should start taking his advice from time to time. I don’t know why that part was cut out of the theatrical release, but I think it was a big mistake. It’s a great scene that adds a little more depth to each character.
I hate to do it, but I have to complain about Edward Furlong. He’s garbage in this. His version of John Connor is one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve ever come across, and the fact that he whines and sounds like he’s hitting puberty while on-screen doesn’t help the awful dialogue coming out of his mouth. At one point, he and Miles Dyson, the man most directly responsible for the machines taking over, break into the building that houses the broken mechanical arm from the terminator in the original film. Once John has the arm, he says, “We’ve got Skynet by the balls now, don’t we? C’mon, let’s book.” Dear lord, that is awful. Just awful. James Cameron can be hit-or-miss when writing dialogue, but it seems like he really tried to give Furlong the shit end of the stick in this one. The whole part in the car where he’s trying to teach the terminator how to be cool is another example of how not to write a scene. “And if someone comes up to you with an attitude, you say ‘eat me.’” Really? “And if you wanna shine them on, it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby.’” Uh, according to whom? I wouldn’t be caught dead ever saying that to anyone, regardless if I wanted to “shine them on” or not. What the hell does that even mean?
Anyways, back to the good stuff. I think one of the reasons the liquid terminator scenes are so intense is because they all have an insane sense of immediacy to them. There’s no dicking around by either terminator. One of my favorite parts is when they’re being chased by the T-1000 in a semi. Arnold is trying to shoot him by hanging out of his pickup’s window as it’s getting rammed, but it’s not working out. He accidentally drops his shotgun shell in the truck bed, so what does he do? He grabs a machine gun, jumps into the bed, runs on top of the semi’s hood, and starts unloading the machine gun directly into the liquid terminator’s face for a solid five seconds. It’s one of the most bad ass things I’ve ever seen in my life.
In my review of The Terminator, I talked a bit about the practical effects work. In particular, there’s a cool bust of Arnold that’s used in the scene where he fixes his eye. It’s a sweet piece of machinery, but it’s also obviously fake. Well, in T2, I challenge you to tell where the real Arnold ends and the fake one begins during the Cyberdyne cop shoot-out scene. Here, I’ll spoil it for you: the real Arnold isn’t getting riddled with bullets, but it sure as hell looks like he is. Stan Winston and company really outdid themselves this time. Seriously, that thing looks absolutely fantastic.
I could sit here and describe scene after scene where awesome things take place, but that would get a little old. Sometimes, I like to end reviews with random comments about the movie, so why not do that? Here we go:
- Why are loony bin orderlies always so creepy and disturbed?
- Linda Hamilton is now one buff, scary-looking woman. Way different than she was in the original.
- I think this movie gets the most use out of twins that I’m aware of. Linda Hamilton’s sister is great in the end.
- Time paradox. Shit.
- Wait a minute. No metal can be sent back through time. The liquid terminator is nothing but liquid metal. Oh, James Cameron, you!
- Arnold needs to pretend to fake-smile a LOT more. He’s eerily good at it.
- As previously noted, Edward Furlong needs to shut the fuck up. If he’s the leader of the resistance, let’s go ahead and not have a resistance. I’m okay with a giant skeletal robot being my boss.
*This review was originally posted on Tyson Carter’s blog, Head in a Vice, for his IMDb top 250 project. Since he’s re-tooling his site and focusing more on indie/horror reviews, the project is being discontinued and all of my guest reviews will be lost if I don’t re-post them here. Go check out his blog if you get a chance; it’s well worth your time.