Whenever movie studios release one of my favorite “blockbuster” films from my earlier days, I can’t help but go and see these icons in the movie theater. While I have almost all of my favorite films readily available for home viewings, there’s nothing quite like the cinema experience, which ultimately, is where these films truly belong.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is absolutely a cinematic experience, meant to be savored in a full visual and audio environment. Lovingly restored and given the 3D treatment for this recent release, the 3D isn’t the pull here. The film itself is a non-stop thrill ride that stars one of the most iconic action stars of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger is my favorite action hero, hands down, but he is also a modern American success story, and someone that I’ve progressively grown to respect over the years.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (or T2, as it is more commonly referred to) is a tale born of fire and steel. A story set years after the 1984 original in which a T-800 Terminator (also played by Schwarzenegger) is sent back through time to kill a woman named Sarah Connor, as her son John is destined to lead a resistance against a total machine takeover led by a self-aware AI called Skynet. The T-800 ultimately fails due to a soldier named Kyle Reese, sent back by John, put also paradoxically destined to become John’s father.
While defeated, the battle isn’t over. Skynet sends back another Terminator with the intent to now kill John, while John himself sends back another protector. Though this time, things aren’t as obvious as it appears.
Terminator 2 is what I call a “gentle retelling” of the original film (of which no one freaked out over like they did with the Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens). It is the same premise, but with roles slightly shifted. The plot beats still match, and even the final conflict is comparatively similar. However, T2 comes with a larger budget. A MUCH larger budget, in fact, making use of early CGI techniques that remain one of the few films from the early 1990’s era to have aged well.
Arnold reprises his T-800 role, and for a solid half hour, there is no indication that he is no different from his earlier incarnation. Against him is another time traveler that adopts a cops guise, and seems more personable. Before their declaration of sides, each proves to be efficient, methodical, and when necessary, ruthless. When both hunters find John, however, the roles reveal themselves in clear, but surprising ways. While trailers ultimately spoiled the surprise. The pay-off was still suspenseful.
The T-800 provides an interesting dynamic to the dysfunctional Connor family. John is a delinquent kid with abandonment issues. He’s been told his whole life that he is destined to become a “great leader”, but even he doubts his mother’s stories until events begins to take place. Sarah has spent over ten years bearing the knowledge of the terrible things to come, having transformed from a simple waitress to a paramilitary warrior. The training and experience has left her hardened, violent, and in a psychiatric ward due to her apocalyptic rantings that no one has believed.
The three characters form a family unit throughout the film, with the focus on what it means to be human as a central theme. Ironically, it is the T-800’s learning what it means to be human that helps to reclaim the Connor’s humanity within themselves.
The film is one giant “chase” film from beginning to end. Once the Connor family is discovered, the hunt begins, and never lets up until the final scene. The set pieces get bigger, the action ramps up more, and each escape is more narrow. The technologically advanced “liquid metal” T-1000 seems indestructible, being able to morph, camouflage, and exhausts a never-ending supply of weaponry, often from its own body. While the T-800 is an older, less advanced model, it has no problem taking several severe beatings before damage even begins to manifest.
The T-800 Terminator is Schwarzenegger’s defining role, and he plays the part with a mechanical approach befitting his cyborg namesake, but also several key moments of the film’s humor. That’s nothing to say of the numerous catchphrases that he spouts that are still iconic lines today.
Terminator 2 is an iconic piece of early ’90’s cinema. From its Guns N’ Roses soundtrack to its remarkable special effects and performances, it quickly established its place in pop culture. But it also comes as a cautionary tale, one that still resonates in today’s culture. The threat of war’s destruction still looms at times in the background, and with advancements in Artificial Intelligence, the real world has been attempting to create a new sentient lifeform.
The parallels of T2 are not lost today, with Facebook recently having to shut down one its own experiments, as two of their programs began to create their own language to converse to each other in ways that humans couldn’t understand. The lessons of Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Terminator franchise in general shows the consequences of when “Man” decides to play “God”, and fails to properly nurture its child in the process.
It’s for that reason I think Terminator 2: Judgement Day cements it role as more than a simple action film. The film is designed to entertain you, but also makes you think about the importance of consequences, and the value of humanity. T2 deserves its place on the big screen where it truly belongs, and is well worth seeing again if you haven’t done so in a while.