Thursday, June 2, 2011

After The Definitive Collection: Terminator 2: Judgment Day Still Rocks!

The Good: Effects, Plot, Acting, Character
The Bad: Nitpicky stuff on all levels.
The Basics: A compelling film filled with amazing effects, strong characters and definitive direction. See The Terminator first, then this!

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the rare sequels that is both better than the original and takes the film franchise in a very different direction. James Cameron exploded the summer blockbuster with a big-budget sequel to the more obscure science fiction horror film The Terminator (reviewed here!). When I first saw Terminator 2 on DVD, I was blown away by the medium and how effectively it translated the movie that I had only seen on a grainy VHS to the screen. Terminator 2: Judgment Day remains one of the litmus test films when testing out new equipment.

If you've never seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day or the original The Terminator you're missing out; the sequel was easily as groundbreaking in special effects at the time as The Phantom Menace was and Terminator 2: Judgment Day was twice as good! More than that, Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a lot that has made its way into the American collective psyche since its release.

The Special (or "Ultimate") edition of Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a treat, because like most special editions, the film is re-edited to include extra scenes or scene fragments that were left out of the original theatrical release to keep it more "up tempo" for the summer movie audience (who, apparently, Hollywood directors are under the misconception, don't want to think). The Ultimate Edition does that, adding scenes that reveal Sarah (Linda Hamilton)'s human side (and her legs!) as well as key scenes of the Terminator (the T-100, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, that is) that add to its character.

On a plot level, it's easily one of the most engrossing science fiction chase films of all time. Doing away with the suspense of the original in favor of more action, Terminator 2: Judgment Day occurs ten years after the original and, unfortunately, is ruined by every review ever written by it. That is, given the opportunity for a "pure viewing" (that is knowing nothing about the film before seeing it) after seeing the first makes the film much more interesting. That is to say, on a tone level, much is lost by knowing the nature of Schwarzenegger's Terminator role before seeing the film; it's wonderful to watch it with someone who has seen the first but is ignorant of the second as, up until the moment the T-100 draws its gun and saves John Connor, his allegiance is unknown and assumed to be hostile and that's wonderfully played out.

The plot is less simple than most such chase movies: having, as improbable as it may seem, failed to kill Sarah Connor, the computer villains of the future (2029) have sent back another Terminator to kill John Connor while he is young and weak. The heroes of the future, led by an older John Connor, send back a protector. The catch is the new Terminator (the T-1000) is made of liquid metal and can morph (change shape) into anything it has touched that is of equal mass. IT makes for load of awesome special effects. So, the protector, a T-100 Terminator, finds John and together they rescue Sarah Connor from a mental health facility that is easily one of the worst health care facilities ever envisioned for the present day. Together the trio flee the T-1000, arm up and, under Sarah's direction, hunt down the architect of the dismal future, a brilliant, good-natured, and socially conscious computer scientist named Daystrom (yes, it's a pretty blatant Star Trek allusion!) and, . . . compel him to not continue his work. In the process, the T-1000 continues to hunt them into a very cool, violent showdown.

If you haven't seen this film, it's easily worth your time. Why? It's interesting and surprisingly socially conscious. That's ironic considering the level of violence in the film was denounced at the beginning by various concerned parties. The truth is, there's an overwhelming amount of social commentary, from the lecherous mental health workers who abuse Sarah Connor in various ways to the way machines are programmed and used to the way Daystrom recognizes the importance of the Bigger Picture and his role in Judgment Day.

The acting is, surprisingly, good or, at the very least, competent. Linda Hamilton is amazing as Sarah Connor. The true scene stealer, though, is Robert Patrick, who plays the T-1000. He carries with him a presence that is wonderful and translates very impressively to the character he plays. And he has a face and demeanor that he plays as downright cold very well.

But, of course, the real importance is in the characters and, in this case, the most important ones are the humans: John and Sarah Connor. Sarah's obvious shell-shock and change in demeanor from the original is well played and realistic. In fact, it's almost impossible to watch The Terminator after seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day because of how weak and whiny she appears in that film. Only slightly less compelling is John Connor, who mixes his sense of destiny well with his feelings of distrust for his mother and longing for the stability of parents.

All in all, far more than a summer blockbuster, this film stands up after years as an interesting and often fun character romp through a world of consequences and potentials.

For other films by James Cameron, please check out my reviews of:


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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