Movie Review – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)



Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was the victim of circumstance.  She was told that her unborn son John was to lead a resistance in the future against the machines that would strive to destroy humanity.  Because of that the Future John Connor sent a man to the past to protect his mother from a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an unstoppable killing machine that was also sent to the past to assassinate her before John was born.

The aspect of a horror film was in effect because of the idea of the unstoppable killing machine from the future.  But writer/director James Cameron made it work very well and The Terminator (1984) became almost an instant classic.

Approximately 12 years after the events of the first film, John Connor (Edward Furlong) lives with foster parents and is a rude, obnoxious, and undisciplined brat.  He would rather work on his motorcycle with his best friend than help his foster mother by taking out the trash, or even clean up his room; he is the quintessential teenager from the MTV generation.  He even steals from ATMs using a fake bank card that allows him to withdraw cash.

Sarah Connor, though, is in a mental institution.  The doctors do not believe that a man from the future had impregnated her and that her son will lead a rebellion against Skynet, the supercomputer that jumpstarts Judgment Day.  She takes very good care of her body, in the sense that she is VERY physically fit and strong.  She also mentally prepares herself on a daily basis so that on the day she gets out of the asylum, if ever, she’ll be ready for war.

A second attempt is made on the life of the Connor family, this time in the form of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  It’s a cyborg of a different breed, entirely made of a “liquid metal” that can change its form into anything of a similar size that it comes in contact with.  It can shape its arms into long, sharp blades and can make itself look like anyone.  Also, much like the original T-101 model, it can alter its voice to sound like others.  Almost immediately the T-1000 takes the form of a police officer, for ironic purposes, and keeps that persona for the duration of the film.

Patrick plays the T-1000 like a psychopath who is always in control.  He is never angry and every movement he makes looks calculated.

The T-1000 is like the T-101 from the original film only in that it does not have feeling or nerves, and it will not be stopped until its mission is complete or it is destroyed.  And how exactly do you destroy a cyborg that is made of liquid metal and that can seal its bullet holes in mere seconds?

A T-800 model also appears from the future in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger (also for ironic purposes), but this version has been programmed by Future John to protect his mother and younger self.  And so, another chase begins.

Terminator 2 is not a horror film like its predecessor but it is widely regarded as one of the best Hollywood action films.  Early in the film, the T-800 steals the clothes of a biker from a biker bar and rides around on his Harley Davidson while the T-1000 rides a police car and asks around several neighborhoods about the whereabouts of John.  On their first meeting, outside of an arcade, John is on his motorcycle being chased by the T-1000 in a semi-truck and on pursuit is Arnie on his Harley.  The juxtaposition of a teenage boy on a little motorcycle being chased by a psychotic cop in a semi is symbolic enough of the determination that the machines hold for winning.  The chase takes place in a vacant aqueduct, made popular in L.A. based films, and is a memorable one.

A fifth and very important character in the film is the city of L.A. itself; with its long stretches of highways, familiar suburbs, and it being a popular nesting ground for the MTV generation.  James Cameron captured the city’s essence in both films and purposely shot mostly at night in order to convey a thrilling sensation to the audience.  A chase between homicidal cyborgs and humans looks more sinister at night, after all.

This film differentiates itself from the first by playing on the idea that there is no unalterable future; no such thing as fate.  Sarah Connor was certain that the Judgment Day had been averted because she had managed to remain alive while the Terminator chasing her was destroyed.  But the remains of the titanium skeleton and the artificially intelligent chip in its skull were found and studied resulting in the continuation of the development of the future army that Skynet will command.

The development work was done by Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a technician and artificial intelligence programmer for Skynet, in the years before the great apocalypse, resulting in his becoming solely responsible for Judgment Day.  Sarah finds him out and decides to assassinate him, always believing in the “no fate” ideal.  She, in turn, becomes a Terminator, attempting to change the future and cease all productions coming forth from Skynet.

The T-800 watches as Sarah caresses her son and tries to train him to become a leader for the future.  If their plan is to stop the apocalypse then why is Sarah worried about John turning into his future self?  Her subconscious has a nagging thought that they would not be able to change everything in the future and she wants to be ready just in case.

John, Sarah, and the Terminator are much like an atomic family with John being the son, Sarah being the mother, and the Terminator being the father figure to John; something he really had been missing throughout his childhood.  Growing up knowing that his mother is in a mental institution and that his father had died before he was born would put a damper on his upbringing.  But once he and the Terminator rescue his mother from the institute, they are on a collision course with destiny; the T-1000 always a step behind.

The T-800 sees John crying and tells him “There is something wrong with your eyes.”  John replies, “Don’t worry about it, you wouldn’t understand.”  But the T-800 has artificial intelligence built in and it picks up on the idea of why people would be upset; that crying is a physical manifestation of their saddened feelings.  He tells John toward the end of the film, “I know now why you cry but it is something I can never do.”  It’s heartbreaking to see a robot tell a child that he understands the principle behind crying but that he doesn’t have the function programmed within to do so.

Walking into the theaters in 1991, audiences were not expecting a psychological and philosophical action thriller that reached two and a half hours in length.  But it was very well delivered and the box-office was not disappointed.  Many images from this film will be stuck in our memories: the bikes, the explosions, the liquid metal.  And Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator saying “I’ll be back” and “Come with me if you want to live,” the same words Kyle Reese said to Sarah Conner in the first film.


Review of The Terminator
Review of Terminator Salvation

2 responses to “Movie Review – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

  1. I didn’t much care for Terminator 2 when I saw it new. It’s hard to be specific after such a long time, but I remember thinking it was overblown, especially in the Sarah Connor/Dyson subplot, and that I didn’t like the “does he or doesn’t he feel emotion” storyline about the ‘good’ terminator. However, like everyone else I was blown away by the morphing effects for the evil terminator. I’ve only grown to like action movies more since then, so perhaps I should put this on my give it a second try list.

  2. The special effects are great because for the most part they are practical SFX. The chases and explosions make the action amazing but the real force behind the film is the complexity of each character.
    Their philosophies and the overall paradox is what made this film as big a classic as the first.


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