Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991) dir. James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Remember when James Cameron made movies? Yes, there was a time when he was the hottest director out there and every 3 years he’d come out with an extravangza bigger than the one before it. Cameron right now is the middle of a Malick-like hiatus which is about to cross 10 years. “Terminator II” arrived with gargantuan hype in the summer 1991. It’s still a fun adventure, but it was better in 1991, than 2007. The film is buoyed by the action and the cool time-traveling link-ups with “Terminator I”, but weighted down by an earnestness which loses the raw toughness of the first film.
Sarah Conner’s (Linda Hamilton) voiceover again begins this installment. She sets the scene and tells us two Terminators were sent from the future to kill John Conner. Of course, the 1984 version failed and got crushed in the hydraulic press of that metalworks factory. Then we see the appearance of the two Terminators. Cameron’s introduction of them is clever. He intercuts Arnold arriving in town, beating some people up and destroying property like he did in part 1, but we also see another slimmer Terminator (Robert Patrick) doing the same thing. Which one is the bad guy? Because of the hype machine, it was no secret in 1991, but if you watch the film without knowing what to expect you will be surprised how well this first sequence plays out.
Indeed, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the traditional Arnold Terminator is the good guy and Robert Patrick’s ‘mimetic poly-alloy’ T1000 is the baddie. Sarah Conner is the big surprise here though. She has grown from a meek victim in Part I into a super bad-ass Terminator-woman in part II. Over the past 7 years she has become a rebellious activist against computer companies (too bad she didn’t take down Microsoft). Now she’s in a mental hospital with no ability to communicate with her son John (Edward Furlong). After finding John Arnold rescues Sarah, narrowly evading the T-1000 at every turn. The film makes a neat left turn when they decide to go after Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), the man responsible for the robot takeover in the future. Killing Miles just might save humanity. Meanwhile over the course of the film John and robot Arnold develop a surrogate father-son relationship. And in the end Arnold learns what it means to cry before he bites the dust in a pool of molten metal.
“T2” (pioneering the movie sequel acronym) succeeds in trumping the original in terms of action. The best set pieces include the Terminator vs. Terminator battle in the hallway, which turns into a chase through downtown L.A. and into the sewer system; the hospital chase; and the final helicopter chase down the freeway. My wife who sometimes watches my silly movies on the couch while surfing the net took a peak at the nighttime Cyberdine action scene and asked why the T-1000 drives his motorcycle up the stairs of the building. “Why doesn’t he just walk,” she said. I never even thought twice about this plothole before then. I just said, “so he can jump through the glass and fly into a nearby helicopter.” Jocelyn subsequently went back to her computer.
The second act subplot exploring the nature of “feelings” in humans certainly drags and drags – especially in the DVD “Special Edition”. As a 16 year old watching the film I didn’t care, I was still awed by the landmark special effects. But the attempts at humour and poignant reflection on humanity and existence just muddy-up what should be a tough-as-nails thriller. But with pressure to make it palatable and family-friendly and to increase the scale at all levels we all know this was inevitable. It only strengthens the original film, which is still the better of the two. Enjoy.
PS Remember Vasquez from “Aliens”? – Believe it or not, that’s Janette Goldstein who now plays John’s whitetrash stepmom - Janelle