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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 17 min.

Release Date: July 3rd, 1991 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James Cameron Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley

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ne of the finest sequels ever made – often considered even better than the original – “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” marks the return of the big screen’s most prominent cyborg. Arnold Schwarzenegger, now a household name (from this series and “Conan the Barbarian” before it), comes back to his greatest (and most fitting) role as a more tractable and benevolent killer robot, again sent through time to help save Earth. Never has so much action, excitement, and suspense been contained in a single movie.

In the near future, Cyberdyne Corporation releases an artificial intelligence called Skynet that will gain so much control over the nation’s defense systems that it will feel threatened by humankind and destroy the world in retaliation. The remnant human rebel forces’ successful efforts to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of their leader John, has forced the self-aware Skynet to send an advanced model Terminator (the T-1000, stony-faced yet wickedly played to perfection by Robert Patrick) back in time to eliminate John as a 12-year-old boy (Edward Furlong). But the humans have captured an older model T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and reprogrammed it to protect John, setting the stage for the battle to end all battles.

Once again, Schwarzenegger’s screen presence is grand, assured, and not too demanding for the heavily-accented Austrian bodybuilder. This time, with exhilarating gravitas, he’s the protagonist, teamed with a young John Connor for a surrogate father/son relationship that shines light on a more emotionally complex partnership – one that is filled with as much pathos as fist-pumping awe. Killing in defense and killing to simply clear a path are underlying themes explored through the morals of the boy, who imparts hints of humanity as he possesses fantastical control over the Terminator’s actions (as if a kid with a new toy). Choice versus command and malice versus implementation are examined with dark humor as the unreasoning automaton opts to shoot to wound and systematically track random human casualties when he’s ordered not to carry out his primary program – which is, of course, to unwaveringly terminate.

The T-1000, however, isn’t queried with the same ethical consternation. It even appears to take pleasure in the act of torture. Its utter inhumanity splendidly contrasts Schwarzenegger’s kinder killer, who formerly exacted the same level of ruthlessness in the preceding picture – here, accompanied by snazzier catchphrases. If ever there were a perfect opponent for our stalwart hero, it’s the chillingly sinister liquid-metal executor. And with stunning special effects that haven’t betrayed their age (a combination of Industrial Light & Magic’s CGI and Stan Winston’s practical work), the T-1000 shape-shifts, absorbs gunfire, and reassembles itself (with the help of computer models and mercury) in one of the most electrifyingly cinematic inventions of all time. The film would go on to win four Academy Awards, for Best Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound, and Sound Effects Editing.

An undeniable science-fiction masterpiece, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is brimming with so much adventure, pulse-pounding thrills, visual and scripted humor, and surprisingly solid acting that even those who don’t enjoy the genre can marvel over the cohesive moviemaking techniques. The always-tricky time travel implausibleness doesn’t even interfere with its entertainment value. And while bigger isn’t always better, writer/director James Cameron’s follow-up is genuinely bigger and better in nearly every way, expanding upon the successes of the original production without resorting to cheap gimmicks, overuse of prior ideas, or a diminishment of inventiveness and creativity.

 

The 3D Re-release (August 25th, 2017)

Any opportunity to re-watch “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is a welcome one. So its 3D-converted, newly restored print in a limited theatrical run creates an excuse to see it again on the big screen. Since the picture wasn’t designed for a 3D presentation, few elements pop out of the screen – though the T-1000’s stabbing weapons could have made for some nice thrills, had Cameron originally filmed those scenes with projectiles launched toward the viewer. Instead, the only noticeable differences are with shots that show greater perspective, which gain depth. The backgrounds appear roomier and wider or more cavernous.

But these moments are quickly forgotten. After awhile, most audiences will probably forget that they’re even watching a 3D movie. But the occasion to see Schwarzenegger’s most amusing role for the umpteenth time allows for little details to stand out; there’s always something new to pick up on. John casually drives through a drainage area, which returns as a key battleground for the first vehicle-based duel between the two Terminators; Schwarzenegger implausibly has time to purchase a box of roses, in which to hide his shotgun while strolling through the service hallways of the Galleria Mall (those roses are also trampled underfoot, as if to poetically contrast dismissed beauty by the ferociousness of the killer); the T-1000 pauses to look at a silver mannequin, which will eventually prove notable when he loses his external skin; the significance of crying grows more poignant; the T-800 learns the usefulness of looking for keys inside stolen cars; John’s ATM-hacking skills make a reappearance, proving the initial scene was a purposeful bit of foreshadowing; and the one-liners and catchphrases retain every ounce of sarcasm and wit that they did back in 1991.

Plus, it becomes more and more evident that Cameron’s expertise with action sequences are largely unrivaled. In that rare yet highly important arrangement and designing of adventure, stunts, and chases, the action sequences are executed in a perfect order of escalation. Rather than reveal the grandest set pieces or high-octane visuals in the middle of the film, each successive action scene intensifies in bombast, so that the explosive finale outperforms everything before it.

– Mike Massie

 

 



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