Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #747

Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 1, 1991
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Action
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $102,000,000
Box Office: $519,800,000
Running Time: 137 minutes/156 minutes (Extended Skynet Edition)
Director: James Cameron
Producer: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron, William Wisher
Special Effects: Stan Winston, Joe Viskocil
Visual Effects: Dennis Muren, Gene Warren Jr.
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Score: Brad Fiedel
Editing: Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt, Richard A. Harris
Studios: Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western Productions, Lightstorm Entertainment, Le Studio Canal+ S.A.
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley, S. Epatha Merkerson, Cástulo Guerra, Danny Cooksey, Sven-Ole Thorsen, DeVaughn Nixon, Michael Biehn (dream sequence)

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Brad Fiedel “Main Theme”

[2] Guns N’ Roses “You Could Be Mine”

[3] George Thorogood & The Destroyers “Bad To The Bone”

[4] Brad Fiedel “Escape from the Hospital (And T1000)”

[5] Brad Fiedel “End Theme”

There are two great James Cameron debates that have raged on for almost thirty years and still do to this very day. The first is whether or not his boys with toys 1986 sci-fi epic, Aliens, is as good a movie as Ridley Scott’s original and I’m more than happy to sit on the fence with this one as they’re both extraordinary for completely different reasons in my opinion. The other however, I consider a little more black and white and it concerns his 1984 classic, The Terminator, and its rip-roaring 1991 sequel. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was ten-years-old when the first film was released and blown away like a hat in a hurricane. But there is no question whatsoever in my mind that the original is victorious in this particular titanic struggle.

I guess it’s ultimately just a question of perspective, and let me make it abundantly clear from the offset, that I still consider Terminator 2: Judgment Day to be one of the greatest science fiction extravaganzas of our time. I was fortunate enough to catch it at my local multiplex, and to heighten the experience further, dropped acid in the queue thirty minutes before insertion. I already knew that I was in for a treat but was ill prepared for just how psychedelic an experience it actually was and spent the entire 137 minutes gurning like an infant as the T-1000 twisted and turned into all manner of unlikely configurations before my disbelieving eyes. As far as cinematic experiences go, this was undoubtedly one of the most insane I had ever had the good fortune of soaking in on the silver screen. Yet for all its visual gymnastics; it still couldn’t hold a candle up to the original in my opinion.

Since then, the franchise has been in gradual free fall. Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was more than decent but had nowhere to go after such an extraordinary second entry, McG’s Terminator Salvation was an excellent movie in its own right and Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys was torn asunder by dumbfounded critics, and although I’ve not yet had the pleasure, I’m convinced that it would be great fun with the correct pinches of salt applied. However, none have come close to repeating Cameron’s feat and the self-confessed “king of the world” knows a thing or two about raising the bar to unobtainable levels. Granted, it fell a few notches short of his own impossibly high standard in my estimations, but what a fucking movie nonetheless.

We all love a good cinematic villain but how does one possibly trump the T-1000 for impenetrable prowess? Boasting the ability to shape shift at will, this highly advanced prototype comprised liquid metal and knew not how to be defeated. Cameron actually summed it up rather exquisitely when stating that “if the 800 series is a kind of human Panzer tank, then the 1000 series had to be a Porsche” and I make him right on that count. He’s always been on the front line when it comes to pioneering technology and with Terminator 2: Judgment Day becoming the first motion picture to break the elusive $100 million cost barrier, every last red cent was duly accounted for. In short, this was every cinephile’s wet dream in celluloid form.

Continuity was assured by the return of Linda Hamilton as the long-suffering last hope of humanity, Sarah Connor, and while this time she was merely a secondary target, she led from the front defiantly. After a failed attempt to bomb a computer factory, our belligerent battle dame was promptly apprehended and incarcerated in a maximum security nuthouse, leaving her temporarily out of commission. However, we all know the story by now I’m sure, and the damage was long done by this point, as her only child John, future leader of the Resistance in the ongoing war against Skynet, was already coming of age and proving to be a chip off the old block.

Before mommy dearest was institutionalized, ten-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong) had received the kind of hard-line survival training that would see him good through his wasted youth. Now living in foster care with his neglectful makeshift parents, Janelle (Jenette Goldstein) and Todd (Xander Berkeley), John was using the tools of the trade presented him for the purpose of petty crime and teetering somewhat precariously over spiraling off the rails. Much has been documented about Furlong’s gradual fall from grace but lest we not forget that he had no aspirations to be an actor at the time and was thrust right in at the deep end. His performance as John was extraordinary given his lack of acting credentials and it is hard to imagine another filling his sneakers quite as dominantly.

Of course, there was still the small matter of a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose name emblazoned across a poster effectively guaranteed box-office returns at the time. First time out, the T-800 was very much the villain of the piece and Cameron decided to turn the tables here and this time, sent him back into time to protect and serve the young tearaway rostered for annihilation. Alas, where the T-1000 was all about those mercury upgrades, his was still a bog-standard synthetic android composed of living tissue wrapped around a titanium endoskeleton, and therefore, second best technologically speaking. That said, he did make for a rather spiffing surrogate father and the sweetly observed relationship between boy and machine formed the very backbone of the picture.

Then we had the future proof T-1000, and while Robert Patrick was slighter in frame than the Austrian Oak, he came good with regards to being both leaner and a darn sight meaner. Streamlined to perfection, this savage sentinel didn’t waste a solitary ounce of his body mass and advanced programming afforded him the opportunity to slither out of some fairly conclusive scenarios. Put the T-1000 down and it was time to start running and gunning, as one quick metamorphosis later, and he’d be snapping at your heels once more. In the history of cinematic bad guys, it simply didn’t get any more menacing than he and Patrick’s disaffected look lent tremendously to this model’s undeniable on-screen prowess.

This was positively wretched news for the director of special projects at Cyberdyne and pre-destined creator of Skynet, Miles Dyson (a permanently perturbed Joe Morton), who likely wished he’d taking a leaf from his namesake’s book and put his efforts into cylindrical vacuum cleaners instead. How does one even begin to process that it is because of their extensive studies that the world is about to enter into a state of Def Con 5? I felt for poor Miles as the bliss of ignorance was fast replaced with the grim realization of culpability and he was left holding the can so to speak.

Boy with toys Cameron wasted precious little time in milking our pleasure glands and the set-pieces kept on coming as the ragtag assembly of hard-pressed peacekeepers pledged collective allegiance to this lost cause and set out to send their opposite number packing back to the future in a man-sized thermometer. Time and again they were thwarted as it’s hard to keep a good man down when he can transform into a helicopter pilot at will and with Johnny Five-like flight manual absorption skills.

Getting ever closer to bagging himself a pipsqueak, the T-1000 oozed his way right into the gang’s personal space and gave his antiquated counterpart one helluva alloy-pounding. But the thing about Schwarzeneggers is that no man-machine pumps iron better and you only need ask hulking hard head, Lou Ferrigno for his thoughts on going toe to toe with Arnold to know that he wasn’t about to say “Hasta la vista, baby” without a true battle of the ages.

However Hamilton’s turn as protective mother Sarah Connor was just as instrumental here and she underwent rigorous physical training to prepare for the immensely challenging role. It showed in every last heaving sinew and bloated temple vein as she provided the kind of strong independent female character synonymous to Cameron’s brand of storytelling. It wasn’t all about the brawn though as her chemistry with Furlong felt organic and entirely unforced, which had just as much to do with Furlong’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the boy with the weight of an entire free world on his shoulders as it did her hugely dedicated performance.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a bona fide case of bigger and better, at least from a technological standpoint, but while the original couldn’t boast the same level of visual sheen as its more moneyed follow-up, neither did it need to. That said, the sequel never felt anything less than a natural progression and supplied optical candies the likes of which only Cameron himself was in a position to ever trump. Just because something is regarded as slightly inferior, doesn’t mean it can’t still attain a level of excellence seldom seen in modern cinema and it was magnificent from very first frame to last.

From Brad Fiedel’s pounding score which barely let up for a second, to all manner of retina-bleeding car chases, explosions and grapples, Stan Winston’s masterful mechanical creations, and the kind of seamless visual effects that defined an entire era, Cameron’s film was pure liquid plutonium and it would take a brave and stupid man to put that kind of industry asunder. King of the world it is then? I’d say the crown fitted rather snugly yes.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Given that Terminator 2: Judgment Day was R-rated by the MPAA to afford the widest audience conceivable, it was actually rather a violent little number. The T-1000 was never less than resourceful when putting any bit part players swiftly out of commission and this resulted in some wonderfully wince-inducing perforations. Indeed, I haven’t accommodated a thermometer (orally or otherwise) when running a temperature ever since thanks to his unparalleled penetration skills.

Read The Terminator Appraisal
Read Blade Runner Appraisal
Read The Matrix Appraisal
Read Trancers Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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