Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year: 1991

Production: Lightstorm / Carolco / TriStar

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Screenwriter: James Cameron, William Wisher

135 minutes. Color


A decade after The Terminator (1984), two more Terminators (human-seeming killer robots) have been sent back to present from the human-machine wars of AD2029, one to eliminate John Connor, the future human leader (the initials are shared with Jesus Christ), while he is still a child (well played by Furlong), the other (Schwarzenegger) to protect him. Linda Hamilton again plays Sarah Connor, John's mother, but, where once she was cute, now she is chain-smoking, violent obsessive in a psychiatric ward, body rippling with muscles, awaiting with a frozen snarl the nuclear holocaust - due to arrive in August 1997 - of which she has been forewarned.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is fundamentally an action thriller, choreographed with precision, probably the most expensive film ever made (budget estimated at $95 million), and very exciting indeed. It does, however, project images of pain and impotence in the shadow of a dark future: the imminence and immanence of nuclear disaster (powerfully rendered in a dream sequence), Sarah's wrecked psyche, the irony of a machine becoming a father figure, the boy struggling inarticulately to explain the sanctity of life to a killer robot (even if a "good" one this time). There is a clear awareness in Cameron of the intractability of human anger and violence; it is precisely these qualities, we must suppose, on which the nihilistic machines, our killer children, are modelled. This awareness runs half-hidden beneath the cynicism of the son/daddy mawkishness aimed directly at the older, softer viewer, and the dishonesty of so violent a film hawking a dove message.

As sf the film becomes embedded in its own causal loop, whereby a future technology sent into the past catalyses the creation of the very technology that caused the trouble in the first place. The second Terminator - played by the interestingly cast Patrick, a slightly built actor with a wholly affectless face - has the ability to flow from shape to shape like quicksilver. Though silly, this makes for great special effects. Commercial considerations demand an upbeat ending, which leave us with the unlikelihood of a plot in which the most efficient killing machine ever created is shown as lacking the competence to kill.

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Tipping the scales at a reputed $100m, this was allegedly the most expensive movie ever made to its date. More to the point, the money is all visible on screen in exploding vehicles, wrecked buildings, monster effects and sheer sweaty action.

It opens with an intriguing re-run of the first movie's premise as a gigantic cyborg (Schwarzenegger) and a slimeline ordinary joe (Patrick) are zapped back from the future, to seek out ten-year-old John Connor (Furlong), son of the heroine (Hamilton) of The Terminator (1984), and a struggle over his life, with the balance of a future that may or may not be ruined by a cataclysmic war between man and machines up for grabs. The twist is that the fresh-faced Patrick is the mechanical villain. Schwarzenegger, in biker leathers and mean shades, is reprogrammed to protect Furlong and gets to reveal, between extensive carnage, that biomechanical killing machines from the future have their sensitive sides.

The rewriting of the stars's persona smacks of a commercial sop to the Kindergarten Cop (1990) audience, but the reversal pays off when it comes to the cop-uniformed villain, constructed from a liquid metal that can shape itself into anything it wants and also pull itself back together if blasted apart. A high-tech version of The Blob (1958), utilizing astonishing and surreal CGI effects, Patrick's T-1000 stands as one of the great monsters of the cinema. Like all Cameron movies, this shuffles its character stuff out of the way in the first two-thirds, then delivers a succession of untoppable climaxes routinely out-awe-somed by the next set-piece. It may be less satisfying than the more idea-driven original, but it still sends firepower fans into Action Flick Heaven as Arnie does his shotgun twirl.

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