Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Nutshell: A punk kid with domestic problems, the imminent leader of the resistance, John Connor (Edward Furlong), is facing a dire future, having trouble with his mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), now imprisoned inside a mental hospital. When the evil computer overlords at Skynet send the devious T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick) back in time to kill John, the old T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) joins the fight, reprogrammed by future John to help protect young John. Springing Sarah out of the loony bin and heading for safety, the gang is confronted with their nuclear future, forced to reassess their plan of attack, turning their attention to Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a Cyberdyne engineer working on a project that will eventually lead to the creation of Skynet.
1991: There was no bigger film that summer than “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” or as it came to be known in bold letters, “T2.” Nothing came close to topping it in terms of box office supremacy, pop culture appeal, and technical wizardry. It was the sequel that stomped them all.
Not bad for a follow-up to the 21st highest grosser of 1984, standing two notches below “Breakin’” and right above “City Heat.”
The boys at the blockbuster factory Carolco Pictures knew they had to make an event out of “T2.” With star Arnold Schwarzenegger coming off his one-two-three punch of “Twins,” “Total Recall,” and “Kindergarten Cop,” whatever he was committing to next had to be major. It had to be huge. Only a return to the vast ego and imagination of writer/director James Cameron would suffice.
The buzz on “T2” started early, announcing itself with a sublime teaser trailer that not only informed the public that another “Terminator” was coming, but it was arriving with a clenched fist. The Stan Winston-helmed clip is perhaps one of the most famous teasers of all time, making great effort to broadcast to the world that, indeed, Arnold would be back. I recall the trailer placed in front of “The Silence of the Lambs,” cutting through the silent theater with its whirring and sparking mechanical assembly, climaxing with a sleek reveal of the new Arnold. CLANG! BOOM! “T2.”
Oh, how I adore that teaser. Extra points are awarded for its scrappy garage feel and synth score, bridging the gap between the low-budget 1984 achievement and the 1991 extravaganza that was about to be delivered.
Once “T2” did arrive, it steamrolled into theaters, stunning audiences with a bold new vision of blockbuster filmmaking from James Cameron, who again raised the bar for visual effects by merging the crude art of CGI into his smash-em-up practical playground. The combination was seamless 20 years ago, generating a sense of awe to compliment the heart-stopping action and enormity of cinematic vision. As a teenager, “T2” was perfect. It was bold, big, and brawny. It offered sights previously unseen, and every entertainment outlet was there to celebrate the dazzling production achievement. It was beautiful.
Brian, how about a job that pays a livable wage? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.” Want a way to receive your driver’s license early? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.” 10 minutes in a broom closet with Winona Ryder (anything goes)? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.”
I flipped for the film, and really, who didn’t? James Cameron not only successfully sequelized a dandy cult picture, but he turned the follow-up into an overpowering, gotta-see summer moviegoing priority. It was a feature that required multiple viewings to absorb. I personally viewed the thing four times during 1991, an amazing accomplishment for an R-rated movie. Heck, the final date I have written down is around Thanksgiving, back when a movie could play for that long and not star Nia Vardalos.
“T2” was a phenomenon. I’m tickled to have experienced the enormity of its release firsthand.
2011: Heavens, I’m not sure there’s anything left to be written about “T2.”
What’s important to impart is that the film has stood the test of time. Sure, the CGI acrobatics aren’t the lightning strikes they used to be and Arnold is more of a tabloid and political punchline these days than a growly superstar, but the basic elements of “T2” remain shockingly fresh and frightfully entertaining.
I’ve grown over the years to appreciate Cameron’s two “Terminator” pictures, preferring the original feature’s feral stance and low-tech creativity as it fashions an end-of-the-world scenario of survival. It’s a fascinating movie, securely shaped by Cameron in his pre-blowhard days, during a time when the bearded wonder had to prove himself to an industry of doubters.
“T2” returns Cameron to a place of fear, released two years after his masterpiece, “The Abyss,” failed to light up the box office as intensely as onlookers expected. The director retreated to the comfort of his original creation, though he wasn’t content to simply rehash the same cyborg shenanigans. With Big A’s participation and Carolco’s insane spending habits, Cameron seized a monster budget and manufactured the ultimate summer moviegoing ride, teeming with car chases, gunfire, sci-fi elements, comedy, explosions, surgery, philosophy, Spanish lessons, a muscular Linda Hamilton, and topped off with a provocative anti-nuclear statement, envisioned here as a mid-movie nightmare that still provides a profound horror show.
“T2” has everything and it juggles the workload brilliantly. Post “Avatar,” it’s easier to spot Cameron’s hokiness these days, yet the sincerity of the message and the performances erase any lingering ick from the cartoony dialogue, with the film’s steel-blue look and ingenious deployment of violence (the T-800’s turn from villain to hero is a wonderful twist) keeping Cameron’s urges at bay. “T2” is softer than the original picture in terms of characterization and emotional beats, yet ferocious when it comes to demolition.
It’s a triumphant sequel in the sense that it builds on established mythos, yet isn’t afraid to feel around for new elements to explore and destroy, with the T-1000 an inspired creation that generates a plausible villain for Arnold to combat while introducing a wow factor with its liquid metal innards. With all the time-travel and cyborg collision going on, Cameron does a fine job believing in his logic. Even if the math doesn’t always add up, it’s easy to be swept up by this audacious movie.
Besides, any film that makes Danny Cooksey a badass is a treat.
We now live in a world with four “Terminator” pictures (“T3” is satisfying junk food with one hell of an ending), a short-lived television series, and a supa-sweet Universal Studios 4-D movie experience. Yet, everything goes back to “T2,” that original flash of spectacle that turned a wonky franchise into a global box office killer and Arnold into a steel-jawed icon. It was also the last time Cameron touched greatness. As much as I enjoy “True Lies” and “Titanic,” the man hasn’t fired on all cylinders since 1991. He lost his hunger with his colossal sequel and that’s a crying shame. Now over the next decade we’re getting two “Avatar” follow-ups. Barf.
Somebody warm up the time portal and reprogram the T-800. He’s got one last target to terminate.