Summer Blockbuster Friday #24: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)’- Throwback Review

When you’re like me and have favorite films come out years before you’ve been born, I always have to wonder how life would’ve been to experience them for yourself, being a part of seeing a classic on the big screen. The impact writer/director James Cameron had on moviegoers when they saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day must’ve changed lives, and for good reason because nothing will ever amaze as this game-changing science-fiction sequel. Just the thought of being alive in 1991 and seeing this with a packed crowed is a dream worth thinking about with the most talked movie that entire summer.

What’s the Story: Young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the key to civilization’s victory over a future robot uprising, is the target of the shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a Terminator sent from the future to kill him by Skynet. The future John has sent another Terminator, the revamped T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), back to protect his young self. As John and his mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) go on the run with the T-800, they must try to avoid the T-1000 and prevent the Nuclear apocalypse that would occur on August 29, 1997.

So many sequels have managed to either be better than the original or face the humiliation of being worse. Luckily, nobody will ever disagree with the fact Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a favorite amongst the film community. Let’s not forget 1984’s The Terminator wasn’t Cameron’s first film (it should’ve), yet it was the one that launched his career with a great and gritty low-budget movie that had a perfect blend of sci-fi and horror that made Schwarzenegger the action star he became later on. Still on his game with the success of his first sequel 1986’s Aliens (taking over for Ridley Scott) and 1989’s The Abyss (A troubled production that has its fans), it would be impossible for Cameron to go bigger and better back than hoping to captivate his target audience with a budget around $102 million seven years later. Proving a director like Cameron will take on anything if they perfected the technology to his vision, despite some hurdles with Hemdale Film Corporation and Carolco Pictures with rights issues. If I had the chance to watch this when I was in elementary school, my mind wouldn’t handle the greatness is displayed in front of me because not since The Empire Strikes Back has a follow-up improves on a massive scale.

This is one of those times where it would’ve been cool never watching the trailers or knowing major plot details and be surprised with how the film will play out with playing out just as you come to expect it. Looking back at the marketing, they gave away the moment in the mall’s hallway that shows Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is going up against Patrick’s T-1000. Seriously, what’s with Terminator trailers always spoiling everything? Those who went into this cold had to be surprised to find out The Terminator is now protecting John, whereas we now see him as the hero this time than the villain. Now it’s reserved. With Cameron directing and co-writing the script with William Wisher Jr., they pretty much made the same movie but putting a hard empathizes on the action and throwing in an emotional touch to the storyline, which makes this more watchable. And just like with Aliens, he makes a sequel better to continue the story with higher stakes; there were in the original movies, but I just thought it grabs your attention quickly. 

What I found to be more engaging than the first film is the human character and how it gives us the chance to find the emotions inside them. Am I ever going to question how much I love seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in action movies? No, but this is a major win with another top-notch move to his name, and he remains perfect as the T-800. Seeing him turn from starting as the villain from the first movie to being a protector now shows his status as the leading man’s hero in the genre. It seems kind of rare to have a switch to a protagonist that must’ve been a risk than you can imagine, but it paid off in its execution. Did I expect him to put forth any human emotions? Well, he’s a robot, so not really? But I love those brief moments when he gives a smile, a deadpan delivery of a line, or when John gives him some cool catchphrases like the iconic line, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor had the biggest character arc out of anybody by letting you know she’s not the same person from before. The first movie has her as a waitress who has nothing special about her except needing to be saved to this strong mother locked up in a mental hospital where she basically transforms herself physically and emotionally into a badass for the past ten years. And I believed it since she trained her hardest for a performance that made me wish we have seen her in more movies after the ’90s. We, the audience, don’t think she’s crazy when she tries to warn everyone by attempting to blow up Cyderdyne Systems after what happened to her.

You might’ve not known Edward Furlong made his acting debut as John Connor, and I forgot about it. But considering he was only a teenager when this came out, and those expectations might’ve been lowered, I thought he gave an impressive performance in handling his scenes on his own. At no point did John ever becoming annoying when the primary goal is caring for him to stay alive. You believe every scene with him and Schwarzenegger build this relationship with each other oddly works as this father-son dynamic John’s been missing in his childhood. But if you want to talk about a villain that has never been described as “forgettable” as time went on, Robert Patrick, who back then had a minor role in Die Hard 2, as unstoppable the T-1000 is the real deal. You can see how he’s more powerful and advanced than his T-800 counterpart without making him the same type of appearance, where he’s going to complete his mission with no one getting in his way with his liquid metal form. Admittedly, I should be afraid of someone who can shape-shift into anyone and turn his arms into stabbing weapons. 

Because even though it’s 132 minutes, it’s unbelievable how fast-paced this goes by, and that’s to the fact you’re waiting for the next moment to bring any level of excitement to get you through the next. These are some of the coolest action sequences ever put to film, where you can feel the intensity of each set piece and could’ve believed it with your own eyes. That’s more impressive than most actions movies come out today, honestly. Just the opening of “Judgment Day,” where the humans are at war with the machines, was already an indicator we were in for something quite amazing. What’s most important is these scenes lean on being intense is because they stay in our minds after it’s over. From the chase with the truck with the Terminator riding his motorcycle to catch him or the shootout at the Cyberdyne building that leads to the freeway chase, it’s impossible to think someone will not find it enjoyable. At the time of its release, this sequel was a technical achievement with some revolutionary visual effects to help bring the T-1000 to life that was ahead of its time, combining the work of Industrial Light & Magic and Stan Winston and Jeff Dawn’s makeup effects. Plus, that was topped a couple of years later with the equally incredible Jurassic Park. Surprisingly enough, I still think they hold up pretty well after 30 years.

I’m usually a sucker for when an action movie looks gorgeous, and Adam Greenberg’s cinematography remains stunning through each frame. And I love the fact Brad Fiedel has returned to compose the score since nobody else can replicate the music as he does in capturing the moments well enough. His main theme, one of my favorite movie themes of all time, matches the opening credits in a way where I will never escape my head. Arguably, the two songs everybody thinks about when watching this is George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” (Overplayed, but still rocks) and Guns N’ Roses “You Could Be Mine,” which I heard on the radio weeks about a month ago and knows how to wake you up after driving at night.

Remember when there was a time where studios used to re-release their older movies to pony in on the then 3D craze? They should’ve done it with T2 ten years ago. Sure, they did respectively re-releases in 1993 with 15 minutes added to the Special Edition and again in 2017 that didn’t get attention, but would’ve made a huge impression to bring a new audience in the mix. Even watching it on Blu-ray, the transfer makes the quality pop out more. I wonder how I’ll react to the 4K format. Besides being the highest-grossing film of 1991 ($205 million domestically), it was nominated for six Academy Awards and ended up winning four: Best Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Makeup, and Visual Effects. And while the MTV Movie Awards don’t sound important now or probably back then, it was the first film to win Best Movie, along with five additional wins. There was even a former Universal Studios Florida theme park attraction called T2 3-D: Battle Across Time that I’m pretty sure was my first experience with anything from the franchise, and I believe it scared me when I first saw it because of the loud noises and the 3D, but then thought it was cool a few years before they closed it in 2017.

So many action movies have come out to take out the competition, and I believe Terminator 2: Judgment Day knows how to get anyone in the world to be entertained throughout the entire runtime. This is another film where I don’t want to hear a single soul disliking an outstanding film since it’s one of the finest movies out there. There’s even no debate on what I think is better between this or the original. I still love the first, but there’s so much fun to be had while watching this, and it will never get old on multiple viewings. And though Cameron doesn’t have an enormous filmography, nothing will ever top Terminator 2: Judgment Day as his most iconic film. As soon as it starts, the possibilities of going back are short since you’ll be glued to the screen till the end. 

Final Thoughts: Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a cinematic masterpiece in the genre of sci-fi/action. James Cameron delivers a spectacular sequel to its already great predecessor by upping the scale of its jaw-dropping action set pieces and amazing visual effects. Even when it’s depressing knowing the subsequent sequels never matched what the original captured since they capped off well enough, this still stands as not only one of the greatest films of the ’90s, but easily one of my favorite films I’ve ever seen.

Grade: A

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