Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)

“Hasta la vista, baby.”

Justin’s rating: Morphing! The visual effect of the future!

Justin’s review: There are a lot of amazing moments in James Cameron’s scifi action blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but the one that sticks with me the most is — of all things — a dream sequence. On the run once more from a terminator, Sarah Connor falls asleep and has a vision of the future nuclear holocaust that’s mere years away from happening. She’s watching herself as a younger, more carefree version of Sarah taking care of a kid on a playground, screaming at her in warning. Then the flash happens, and over one of the most terrifying minutes of film ever recorded, we see at atomic explosion take out L.A. and blast buildings and children alike.

It’s a brilliant sequence because it serves to remind us of what Sarah is really fighting against — and, if she’s very fortunate, fighting to prevent.

Terminator 2 was a hit because it works on so many great levels. On the surface, it’s a fun action flick with lots of gunfights, explosions, chase sequences, and Arnold Schwarzenegger toting around huge weapons. But one level below that and we get a gripping family dynamic between its three leads: foster kid John Connor, who is estranged from his lunatic mother; Sarah Connor, who is desperate to protect John but can’t seem to be a good mother to him; and a good T-800, who steps in as a bit of a father figure and best friend for John. A level below that, and we get a plot that’s about changing the overall mission objective of saving John Connor so that he can grow up to lead the human resistance against the machines to a new mission objective entirely: to wipe out Skynet before it can threaten the world.

What makes all of this so tense and gripping is that for most all of the film, the Connors seem about a hair’s breadth away from losing. Right from the start, a new and improved terminator — the shape-shifting, people-impersonating T-1000 — arrives from the future, assumes a cop disguise, and starts gunning for John. He’s a scrappy kid with requisite ’90s floppy hair and light hacking skills, but he’s pretty much a defenseless turtle on his back. Fortunately, he gets a terminator best friend to do his whim, which results in a spectacular jailbreak sequence from his mother’s mental institution.

Yes, we’re all sick and tired of the “hasta la vista” quote overload that this film generated, but we shouldn’t forget how incredibly good it works across the board. As a teenager, I was in love with the opening future war sequence, somewhat freaked out by the T-1000s penchant for spearing people through the head, and cheering Arnold on as an unstoppable force on the side of the good guys for once. As an adult, I can appreciate how Cameron carefully crafted a movie where so many themes and character-building moments could happen even as a metal man with spike arms is running at you.

Exciting? Yes, but also terrifying, intriguing, and satisfying. One of my favorite movies of all time.

PoolMan’s rating: 14 years later… and I can still nearly recite it word for word. Scary.

PoolMan’s review: In late 2003, Justin handed down a mandate from his airy mountain fortress on high. He commanded all us Mutants to make New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming calenderial switch to 2004. Being of unsound mind and body, I agreed to participate, but I was going to make you monkeys work for it. The terms for my resolution were that any non-staffer who got to 666 posts on the Mutant Forum by June 6th would be granted a review request courtesy of yours truly. To make a long story short, only one person ever rose to the rank of 666 posts in a respectable amount of time: DocD83, our resident curmudgeon and mithril physics debater.

That was probably about a year ago. Ahem.

Since then, I’ve undergone Justin’s wedding, my own wedding, my first foray into the world of trying to buy a home (Update! Still no dumpsters big enough to house my manly feet) and took a job that actually required a little work at the old home office. Couple that with the fact that for some godforsaken reason, I have literally been unable to find the single biggest movie of the early 90’s in any video store, anywhere, and you arrive, finally and breathlessly, at my long overdue review of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Doc, this one’s for you. Drew, hit the music.

[strains of Disco Inferno fill the room]

Um… sure.

It’s no point of exaggeration to say that Terminator 2 (or T2, as it was dubbed by the marketing gurus of the era, much to the delight of the future filmmakers responsible for ID4 and other such confusing acronyms) was just about the biggest sequel ever. If your memory stretches back to 1991, surely you remember the plethora of marketing campaigns, ads, Slurpees, candies, videogames, and other assorted crapola that came with this movie. T2 became the benchmark example of how to tie a movie into almost every form of marketing known to man. If you tire of seeing Star Wars M&M’s with Revenge of the Sith right around the corner, you probably have the creation of T2 to blame. It was, simply put, an overhyped event of a movie, one of the first of its kind.

Now, that all said, it’s a pretty damn good flick. It delivered on a lot of the hype that it promised. Witness the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the reprisal of his biggest breakout role as the unstoppable killing machine, the Terminator (jury’s still out on whether the Ahnuld-bot’s model number was T-800 or the T-101). Thrill to one of the best early successes of a CGI character in the form of the excellent T-1000, played to the hilt by Robert Patrick. Check out Linda Hamilton looking nearly as manly as Arnie himself!

Basically, T2 continues the very wide open ending of the original Terminator movie. Sadly for poor Sarah Connor, she’s wound up in a mental institute, owing to all the horrifying visions of a future ruled by the homicidal war machines Reese warned her of in the first flick, while her son, the future leader of the resistance against said machines, steals from bank machines and generally begins the long, arduous process of growing up to be a complete ass. But apparently even this state of affairs prompts the machines of the future to send a new Terminator, the shapeshifting T-1000, back in time to kill the Connors. However, Future John’s no dummy, and he sends back a robot to protect himself; a hijacked Ahnuld-model Terminator, reprogrammed to defend Young John. Ahnuld pretty much has the entire situation under control until Sarah gets the bright idea to take out the scientist responsible for the SkyNet technology so that the machine threat never comes to be in the first place. The whole thing escalates to the inevitable confrontation between the two Terminators with John’s life (and humanity’s hopes) hanging in the balance.

Pretty neat concept, actually. You definitely have to give the writers credit for doing more with a perfectly ominous ending than the creators of The Matrix. They took their characters, grew them up, changed their allegiances, and let them fight it out. The result is definitely cool. Bigger, meaner, and funnier than the first movie in most respects, T2 was a smash hit. Probably its biggest failing was that it’s just not as thrilling as the original movie. The original Terminator was almost silent, delivering precious few lines as it stalked a young, naïve Sarah Connor to its own doom. Both the new T-bots are Chatty Cathies by comparison. The T-1000 is programmed to be more socially malleable and clever, while the new Arnie-bot is being taught badly dated teenager slang.

This, sadly, brings me to the part of T2 I just can’t abide. I really, really, really can’t stand the character of John. Not only is he growing up to be a hoodlum, he treats the Terminator as a pet, feeding it line after line of now extremely tired catchphrases. All you need to hear is a sound clip of Arnold saying “hasta la vista, baby”, and your eyes will begin to swivel dangerously in their sockets. The reduction of the Terminator from a scary killing robot to some dorky teenager’s favourite toy is a pretty big change for the character, and for me I find it pretty hard to swallow.

However, credit again where it’s due. This movie is all about action, and it delivers. The fights and chases involved are incredibly memorable, and have been copied and parodied infinitely in the creative vacuum that is Hollywood. T2 was a template for action movies to come for years, and its influence can still be felt today.

Is it good? Hell yeah. If by some chance you’ve not seen it yet, please, go with my blessings and track it down. It’s dated (that CGI is teetering daaaangerously close to the edge), and it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, but it was a rollercoaster thrill ride a LONG time before the phrase “rollercoaster thrill ride” became such a terrible cliché. Totally recommended.

Shalen’s rating: 150 of the 206 bones actually found in the adult human body and also, inexplicably, in giraffes.

Shalen’s review: First of all, a confession, just so that no one thinks I’m trying to maintain a pretense of reviewer impartiality: I love this film deeply. Almost as much as I love Soldier. The idea is interesting, without dwelling too much on the time travel aspects. The direction is good. The color palette is usefully grim or infernal, depending on where we are in James Cameron’s grim little universe. There just is not a better-executed example of the Mechanical Man, what he is and where he comes from and how people react to him.

And what interesting reactions there are. John Connor is a profoundly annoying character for most people, but he is in the film for what was no doubt a very compelling reason at the time. His presence touches the soul of every insecure early teenage boy (or insecure college girl, as I was when I first saw this) who would LOVE to have an invincible cyborg follow him around looking huge and menacing. The scriptwriters and director Cameron did manage to suggest the Terminator as a substitute father figure for the fatherless John, and I believe John’s mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton, and occasionally her twin sister, believe it or not*) mentions something like this during the film. (Perhaps that was only on the extended DVD.) The older model Terminator is permanently accessible and emotionally invulnerable to juvenile tantrums, and while he is incapable of affection, he is also incapable of lashing out as human fathers sometimes do.

Far more interesting to me, however, was Sarah’s relationship to the Terminator. I say relationship to, not with, because it is necessarily one-sided. She hates everything about the Frankensteinian creation, and does not like or trust him to the very end of the film. I enjoyed her level of physical toughness and competence, so very rare in movie heroines who are not dressed in skintight leather, but it was also interesting to watch her repeatedly attempt to emotionally flagellate a machine which is incapable of responding. Her repeated critical remarks meet with simple acknowledgement, nothing more.

This was something I particularly enjoyed about this movie: the Terminator changes very little in the course of the film, though he grows increasingly battered physically. The film seldom gives in to the temptation to make this inhuman creature human, and I have to love that. Mr. Schwarzennegger’s acting may have had something to do with that, given his shortcomings in the area of portraying actual human emotion on screen, but this was an instance in which it really worked.

I personally recommend the extended edition, for the addition to the scene in the garage* if nothing else. But if you haven’t seen this film at all, do. Unless you went to see In the Mix at the same time I did, in which case I suggest you take your three children under age 9 to a psychologist while there’s still time.

* In the extended garage scene, Linda performs “surgery” on the Terminator in front of a mirror so he can give directions. There is actually no mirror. Her twin is standing behind Schwarzennegger and Linda is standing behind a model. Their movements are perfectly synchronized.

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