What’s better than 1 time traveling human-like robot sent back to the past on a mission to prevent the prophesized nuclear holocaust? The answer is simple, 2 human-like robots traveling back to the past, both fighting for opposite sides – 1 for the sentient artificial intelligence known as Skynet and the other protecting the human life that sparks a rebellion in the year 2029 against Skynet. To me, co-writer and director James Cameron had a missed opportunity with the title – he could have gone the same route as Aliens and named this sequel Terminators, but Terminator 2: Judgement Day works just fine, I guess.
Just like its predecessor, Judgement Day begins in the desolate future of 2029 in the middle of the war between Skynet and the dwindling human race. At the center of this fight for survival is a person with the surname Connor – this time John Connor (Edward Furlong), son of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Future John sends back a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to 1995 to protect his younger self from Skynet’s upgraded shapeshifting T-1000 model (Robert Patrick) who is set out to kill John, thus securing the rise of Skynet and the decimation of the human race.
Civilization’s only chance of survival is in the hands of Arnold’s intimidating stature, minimal dialogue and signature catchphrases. “Hasta LA vista, Baby”.
To be fair each one of those aspects of Schwarzenegger’s stoic performance makes for a sequel that elevates the world building that Cameron introduced 7 years prior. Here Cameron doubles down on the mythology, using the science fiction of it all to the film’s advantage, setting a tone of relevancy to any period, whether it’s the past, present or future. Technology in the wrong hands can have severe consequences for the entire world but even with the human race hanging in the balance, Cameron and co-writer William Wisher keep their story grounded in reality.
While the stakes are at an all-time high (even higher than in Terminator), Judgement Day feels intimate and personal. The human characters can interchangeably be anybody and it’s their connection along with Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton’s chemistry that keeps you engaged in the chaos and mayhem Cameron sets off once the Terminator’s travel back to 1995. From the moment their nude cybernetic bodies materialize a la Star Trek, all hell breaks loose and Cameron as a director is in complete control.
But while there are plenty of action sequences that will keep the tension high and the adrenaline higher, Cameron and Wisher build on their characters dimensions. As robotic as they are, the Terminator’s, specifically Arnold’s reprogrammed and outdated T-800 model is given depth beyond his duty to protect John from danger. Throughout the 137 minute runtime, their relationship evolves from a protector/protected relationship into a father/son relationship – something the original T-800 tried to prevent in killing Sarah. Arnold for playing essentially the same character has warmth, conveying vulnerability, consistently learning to be more human when protecting John. Their journey within the scope of preventing Skynet from becoming sentient and malevolent makes for a compelling sequel. As was done with Aliens.
Coming back as Sarah, Linda Hamilton is a full on bad ass heroine, picking up right where she left off, looking as comfortable in her role as she did in The Terminator. Hamilton is edgy and raw, unafraid to fight for her convictions but sensitive and kind as a protector herself. All Sarah fights for is her son and the same way that Ellen Ripley is a fierce mother, Sarah Connor is her equal. What the two have in common is James Cameron, giving a mother character her flowers as the only one who will die to protect their child from any supernatural danger.
In the 7 year gap between films, the computer generated imaging has advanced tenfold but even by todays standards, the quality still holds up. The T-1000 fluidly shapeshifting, having bullet holes blown through its liquid metal body makes for a dazzling display of visual effects and Robert Patrick takes a cookie cutter villain into the stratosphere, making the T-1000 one of the most memorable and fearsome action villains in recent memory. Two standout moments of the visual effects happen at opposite ends of the narrative.
The first comes when Sarah attempts a breakout of her hospital – simultaneously John and the T-800 are attempting a rescue while the T-1000 is there to kill John. Because it is a high security hospital, there’s a prison aspect to the layout and Cameron flexes his keen visual eye, liquifying the T-1000 to pass through a locked gate. Something the director perfected since The Abyss and a similar effect had to be done. The second comes during the climatic final act/action sequence where the addition of liquid nitrogen in close proximity to a molten hot steel creating a satisfying metamorphosis. Both outstanding sequences catapulting Cameron as a director beyond his time.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is perhaps one of the greatest sequels to ever be made. Not only does it expand on the world that Cameron first introduced but it humanizes characters that aren’t meant to have that type of depth. If Arnold’s T-800 can learn, evolve and grow to sympathize and understand humanity as a cybernetic robot, than so can anyone. From the high-octane pace that Cameron operates in, to the countless explosions of fire and twisted metal that keep the story moving to the exceptional atmosphere Cameron creates, Judgement Day will keep your attention and make you thirst for more stories set in this relatable world.
Screenplay By: William Wisher & James Cameron
Directed By: James Cameron
Music By: Brad Fiedel
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton
Where to Watch: Paramount Plus
Edited By: Conrad Buff, Mark Goldblatt & Richard A. Harris
Release Date: July 3, 1991
Running Time: 2 Hours 17 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%