Terminator 2: Judgment Day Review

Posted: May 23, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: July 3rd, 1991

Running Time: 2 hours and 32 minutes

Written by: James Cameron and William Wisher, Jr.

Directed by: James Cameron

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

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Note: I’m reviewing the cut that runs 152 minutes, which is apparently an Extended Cut, but is also the only version I’ve seen.

There are two names which seem to be synonymous with 80’s and 90’s action fare: Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, and together, they form one of the most popular franchises created in that era: the Terminator franchise. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, especially, seems to be every action junkie’s wet dream; it’s got explosions galore, badass one-liners, a hail of bullets and Arnold Schwarzenegger looking stoically cool behind a pair of sunglasses. Many would have you believe that it’s also one of the best action movies ever made. But the question here today is, am I one of those people? To spare you any sense of suspense, I’ll just go ahead and lay my cards on the table: Terminator 2, or T2 in abbreviated format, is a very good and strong action flick that only brushes shoulders with greatness instead of embracing it.

Picking up quite a few years after the original film, T2 finds ten year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong) living with foster parents, seeing as how mommy Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is currently residing inside a mental institution in the wake of a failed bombing of a Skynet computer factory. Skynet is, of course, the soon-to-be-malevolent technology company that gives birth to the A.I. that takes over the world in the future. Things start escalating, however, with the arrival of a ruthlessly efficient T-800 (Robert Patrick), whose sole mission is the elimination of John Connor by whatever means. At first, John has to rely purely on his instincts to evade the literal killing machine … that is, until the just-as-effective Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives in aid of John. He’s been reprogrammed to protect Sarah and John, because the John of the future knows they can prevent the war between man and machine from happening in the first place. But first, John and The Terminator must free Sarah from the mental institution, where no one believes her tales about killer machines from the future. The trio’s best bet to prevent “Judgment Day” is to locate and kill Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), an engineer working on advanced technology that will eventually lead to the founding of Skynet. But of course, they’re relentlessly pursued by the T-800 along the way.

There’s no denying that T2 is a better film than its predecessor. Here, everything’s just bigger, ESPECIALLY the action sequences, which are pretty first-rate. James Cameron this time around had a bigger budget to play with, and it certainly shows on how he stages action that is pretty badass and always tremendously exciting. The choice to make Schwarzenegger’s robot character a good guy in this sequel really helps things too, cause c’mon, who wouldn’t want this guy on their side in a really tough spot? T2 is a great example of a sequel not limiting itself to the rules and restraints that its original film set, as it gives a scope to the Terminator universe that was missing in the first film. So why can’t I consider this a genre classic, you ask? Well, it really boils down to the man behind the lens, Mr. James Cameron himself. As a director, Cameron is perfectly capable, confident and knows how to deliver the goods. As a writer, though, I believe he’s his own worst enemy more often than not.

I find that with every James Cameron film I’ve seen, save for Titanic, Cameron as a writer struggles to find an effective emotional core to really build his stories around. As much as T2 entertains me, every time I watch it, I can just never get emotionally invested in these characters, mainly because Cameron’s dialogue can feel pretty stiff. And this isn’t the only film of his that’s guilty of such a crime. Another thing Cameron doesn’t seem to have the best grasp of here is pacing. His sense of tone, atmosphere and thematic issues are fine, but I can see why the theatrical cut was sixteen minutes shorter. Now, I realize the official cut of T2 is 136 minutes long and I’m reviewing the 152-minute cut, but since I am reviewing that version, it’s still a valid issue for me to address, and it ties back to Cameron’s writing abilities. A movie like this should fly by, but instead, because of a few scenes that really do feel like extra padding, T2 can be a very stop-and-go movie, and also one that feels a bit too long. One minute, it’ll be rocketing along nicely … only to skid into a wall while trying to take a turn too fast. To be fair, though, that’s not a really prevalent issue, but it does exist enough here for it to be a detraction for me personally.

But if it feels like Cameron doesn’t fully succeed in fleshing out the emotionality, it certainly can’t be blamed on a lack of effort on the part of the actors. Let’s start with Linda Hamilton, who knocks it out of the park as Sarah Connor. Despite the relatively stiff dialogue she has to work with sometimes, Hamilton nonetheless manages to bring out Sarah’s insecurities, fears and mounting dread with truly effective skill and the fact that we’re supposed to sympathize with her is a foregone conclusion. Hamilton has a number of strong scenes throughout this film, and she nails every one of them. She turns Sarah Connor into an extremely sympathetic and multilayered person, very much an upgrade from the first film. She’s not just a girl with a gun; she’s a character. And she’s so in spite of some of the script. Edward Furlong, meanwhile, manages to avoid typical kid-with-an-attitude cliches, and he especially shines in the moments where he bonds with The Terminator. But also, he sells John’s more dramatic moments fairly well. The mother-son dynamic between him and Sarah is really interesting to watch as a result. And then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick as our two metallic mutilators. Patrick is a certified badass without having to silly stuff like talking, making for a satisfactory villain, and of course Schwarzenegger is a total blast as the titular Terminator. Between his talent for killing and the surprising attempts to achieve humanity that come through in Schwarzenegger’s performance, The Terminator is a real joy to watch in this film. Need I go on about this?

Finally, there are the action scenes, which I think mostly speak for themselves. Again, James Cameron knows what he’s doing as a director, so the action in T2 is pretty first-rate, with stuntwork and explosions that make the action-hungry adolescent in us all grin widely. This is some of the best 90’s action you’re ever likely to see.

By now, I might have incited an angry mob of film fans to hunt me down because I don’t consider T2 to be one of the best action movies ever made — I wouldn’t even call it my favorite James Cameron movie — but people, I still think it’s a very damn good film. In the grand scheme, my issues are ultimately outweighed by the numerous positives on display, making for a very worthy sequel indeed.

***1/2 /****

NEXT WEEK: It’s wedding season!

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