It’s one of those debates that will rage on until Skynet becomes self-aware and obliterates mankind: which film is better, The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day? In my humble opinion, it’s The Terminator. The Terminator is a film that literally cuts to the chase; a rough and ready films that starts the action/thrills from the beginning and rarely lets up. It also has the more horrifying villain in the shape of the T-800. However, that is not a knock on T2. They are films of a similar quality, and that quality is sky high. T2 is the film James Cameron wanted to make when he made The Terminator. T2 follows a similar storyline to The Terminator, but with more detours, spaces for breath, one-liners, awesome action scenes and emotional character development. A little bloated, but still a vital and brilliant film.
Like I mentioned before, the story is similar to The Terminator. After failing to kill Sarah Connor in the past, the machines of the future send back another Terminator to kill a ten year old John Connor. Again, the resistance manage to send back someone (or something?!?!?) to protect him. In the words of Sarah Connor’s voice over at the beginning, “it was just a question of which one would reach him first…” (cue the theme music!)
As with The Terminator, it’s hard to review a film that meant so much to me in my childhood (and still does today!). I remember the BBC premiere of T2 and just being speechless after it. Nearly a quarter of a century later, and none of its power to thrill and amaze has been lost. It’s a film I could watch over and over again and never be bored by it. As an action film, it is untouchable. The first chase scene in the film, involving John on a scooter, the T-800 on a motorbike, and the T-1000 in a truck, sets the bar very high for action set pieces, but the film continually overshoots the bar afterwards. Sarah breaking out of mental hospital, the whole Cyberdyne scene, the climactic half an hour chase scene…very few action films have come close to the highs of T2.
“My mission is to protect you”
However, it’s all well and good following awesome action scene after awesome action scene, but without anyone to care for, why should we care about the action? Fortunately, T2 betters its predecessor in the character category. And that’s mainly because of the relationship between John Connor and his protector, the T-800. John has never had a constant father figure in his life, due to his mum’s determination to make him into a war leader. However, in the T-800 he finds the perfect father figure. A being who, in the words of Sarah, “would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die, to protect him.” Paradoxically, John is the adult in the relationship, trying to teach the T-800 why it’s wrong to kill. After stopping it from killing someone, John tries to tell it why killing is wrong, but the T-800 asks ‘why’ repeatedly, just like a child. The T-800 may be the father figure, but John is the mentor, teaching the T-800 modern lingo. It’s central to the story, and gives the audience an emotional attachment to both the T-800 and to John.
Sarah Connor is, simply put, a bad ass in this film. The contrast between the Sarah of the first film and the Sarah of this film is enormous. She’s now a women who is built, both mentally and physically, to at once protect her son and to build him up to be a great leader of people. She’s determined to escape the mental facility she’s holed up in, and a brief detour to a past acquaintance (Enrique!) makes it obvious she’s planned for the future. However, the tragedy is that she’s become cold and distant. Her attempt to kill Miles Dyson, the man who will one day create Skynet, depicts her as the T-800 of the first film, unblinking and remorseless. Over the course of the film, being with John and the T-800, she relearns her humanity. To defeat the machines, humans must retain their humanity.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold this…”
I mentioned before that the T-1000 is not as menacing as the T-800 in The Terminator, but that isn’t meant to demean the T-1000. He’s almost as effective a villain as the previous T-800. He’s the perfect example of the progression of technology: sleek, slim, refined, and shiny. Unlike the T-800, who was designed to infiltrate humans but looked like a steroid abuser, the T-1000, even in his normal form, looks like an average human being. He’s made from liquid metal, so he can change his shape and imitate people. As an match for the T-800, he’s more than an equal.
Like it’s predecessor, T2 is full of iconic moments. Sarah screeching to a halt as the T-800 steps through the lift, Sarah breaking Dr. Soberman’s arm (“There’s 215 bones in the human body. That’s one!”), the T-1000 grabbing onto the car that our three heroes are escaping (a moment beautifully aped in The Simpsons, involving Homer and golf clubs), the T-800 using his mini-gun, the T-1000 morphing through the bars and getting his gun stuck, the battles between the two terminators…It’s an endlessly quotable film, from “I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle,” to “Hasta la vista, baby.” Each and every character, right down to Enrique, leaves his or her mark on the screen. Even more than that, it raises questions about humanity. After watching two kids shoot each other with toy guns, John comments to the T-800 that “We’re not gonna make it, are we?” The T-800 replies “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.”
“I need a vacation”
T2’s bloated running time transforms it from the sci fi horror of the first one into sci fi action, just like Cameron did with Aliens. But T2 never drags, with the screen time outside of the action being just as valuable and engrossing. As a pure action movie, it’s unparalleled. Its scene rival any blockbusters of today, as do the special effects. But it’s an action movie with a heart. If anyone is unmoved by the closing moments of T2, then they have no heart! It’s a film that raises plenty of philosophical questions, such as the responsibility of a person for the consqeuences of their future actions (like Miles Dyson), and the morality of machines and humans. As Sarah says at the end of the film, “If a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, then maybe we can too…” It’s a poignant way to end T2, and an exclamation point for the entire film. My love for this film will never end, as you can probably guess! But taken either as an action film or as a sci-fi film, T2 is rarely bettered.
VERDICT: 9/10. On the face of it, a typical sequel. Bigger, louder, longer…but it never forgets to have a heart or a moment of humour. A film that pauses as often as it thrills us, but never without a purpose. The epitome of sequels. Essential viewing!