Retro Review: 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day'
As the sequel to the unexpected action hit The Terminator, Terminator 2 was a mega hit. It made millions of dollars in the U.S and across the world. The film also had groundbreaking special effects when CGI was still relatively new.
With a recent 3D release, the question arises: Does Terminator 2 still hold up. Okay, the answer to that is a hard yes. So a better question is why does Terminator 2 still hold up?
So many sequels attempt to just copy the previous film's formula. Home Alone 2 and Hangover Part II are examples of films criticized for being too similar to their predecessors. Terminator 2 does have a similar premise to the first film. Another machine is sent back in time to kill someone and a lone warrior is sent to protect. The big difference is this time, Skynet is not going after Sarah. The target is John Connor himself.
Not only that, instead of a human protector, a re-programmed T-800 is Connor's protector. And boy is he necessary, because Skynet sent back the T-1000, a prototype with liquid metal capabilities that can create knives, and fully transform himself into anyone he wants. With the Terminator, John and Sarah Connor go on the lam from both the police and the T-1000 before eventually deciding to destroy Skynet before it can even start.
A good sequel should advance the story and up the ante: Terminator 2 does both.
Probably the most drastic change in character is Sarah Connor. In the first film, she was more or a less a damsel in distress. That's not a knock on her - what else could she have been? She was just a waitress who has a literal killing machine come after her. However, we see how that experience changed her. She became paranoid, learned how to live off the grid, trained with weapons, became stronger. But this came at the cost of her sanity: When she started talking too much about the future, she was seen as insane - and her psychotic tirades did her no favors.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the T-800. In the first film, he was a terse killer on the side of evil. In this film, he has been re-programmed to protect Connor. One thing that builds dramatic tension is that even the Terminator gradually changes. Throughout the movie, his relationship with John Connor teaches him the value of life. The Terminator learns humor, learns to talk less like a robot and most importantly learns the value of human life. In the beginning, the Terminator breaks in on a biker bar and runs roughshod over everyone with no regard. Later in the film, he fires warning shots on a group of SWAT and police officers, making sure he takes no casualties. If I had one nitpick, I do feel Arnold talks a little too much in this film. But that's a minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things.
John Connor was played by newcomer Edward Furlong. Growing up, he had been warned of the Terminators and Skynet, but he didn't believe it until he saw them. He spent years as a street thug: stealing money and hanging out at arcades. Once the Terminator enters his life, he becomes a different person. Whether he shows strength or vulnerability, Connor makes us empathize with him no matter what stage.
The main villain the T-1000 is bad news. In the role of his lifetime, Robert Patrick plays the part with steely intensity. The character is an advanced prototype and this becomes evident early on as he frequently uses strategy to locate John Connor while the T-800 frequently uses brute force. What gives the T-1000 so much power is he takes a cop disguise early on. There's something even a little scary about the future robot assassin being a cop.
Even though he has proportionately less screen time, Skynet developer Miles Dyson has story development too. Despite being responsible for a nuclear holocaust, he's a family man who is wrapped up in advancing technology.
Action and Special FX
I already mentioned how this film built on the first film's story. However, Terminator 2 also upped its game in the action department in a BIG way. The action in this film is mindblowing. It's also an example, of why a good story will compliment good action. The movie begins with the nuclear holocaust that Skynet will cause. Early on is an intense scene where the T-1000 chases John Connor through an aqueduct with the T-800 trying to catchup.
This is already a fast-paced, exciting action scene, but the stakes are high. We already see a vulnerable - albeit tough - 10 year old facing seemingly unstoppable robot in a truck. We know what will happen if the T-1000 is so successful, so the stakes are high in this already tense scene.
At the time, this movie was made, the special effects looked unbelievable. Over 20 years later, they still stand up. When the T-1000 transforms part of its body into a knife molds out of the floor, or walks through prison bars without effort; all these things look like they are really happening. Whether or not, that sounds like a big deal, re-watch some of the other CGI-heavy movies from the 90's. It's amazing how well the effects in T2 have aged.
One of the reasons the effects look so good is the film relied on a combination of CGI and practical effects. Special effects legend Stan Winston helped design practical effects such as the T-800's battle damage late in the movie.
In 1993, an extended cut was released. In addition to 15 extra minutes, perhaps the most noteworthy addition is a previously deleted cameo from Michael Biehn. Biehn reprises his role as Kyle Reese, who appears to Sarah in a vision. Other noteworthy moments include a scene explaining how the Connors re-programmed the Terminator learn and a pretty funny scene where the Terminator learns about smiling.
When it comes to extended cuts, sometimes they can be good (Aliens, Blues Brothers). Sometimes they add things that should have been left on the cutting room floor (Dumb & Dumber). The extended cut of Terminator 2 is definitely worthwhile. Even at roughly 2 and a half hours, the film breezes by, and surprisingly every addition is good. There is one disadvantage to the longer cut. T2 is a film that doesn't waste time. Every scene leads to the next with little padding in between them. It's a very to-the-point, "don't bore us, get to the chorus" type of film.
Still, either version is excellent: Want something a little more concise? Watch the original cut. Want a little extra meat to the story? Watch the extended edition.
A THIRD cut was later released which includes an additional scene of the T-1000 finding information on John Connor, but most importantly an alternate ending.
The alternate ending takes place on what would have been Judgment Day. Sarah Connor reflects on how the nuclear holocaust didn't happen and everything turned out OK. Personally, I prefer the ambiguity of the original ending. It's easy to see why this third cut is rare. But it is a curious piece of history.
In conclusion, Terminator 2 is just as good as it was when released in 1992. Some movies are made for their time. Terminator 2 was made for all time.