Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – A Review


A review of the 1991 sci-fi/action classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, directed by James Cameron

Terminator 2 Judgment Day 1991 sci-fi action movie

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) had been preparing her son John (Edward Furlong) for his important role as future leader of the human resistance against Skynet, the artificial intelligent computer that will lay waste to mankind. However, now John is on his own living with guardians since Sarah got herself locked away in a mental hospital.

A new present day threat appears in the form of an advanced Terminator (Robert Patrick) that is tasked with the mission to kill John Connor. These terminators just won’t leave the Connor family alone!

This T-1000 model is composed of liquid metal, so not only is it as strong and unyielding as past terminators, but it can also change appearance to look like anyone it touches! This sounds like it can be a lot of trouble!

Fortunately, the future John Connor reprogrammed an older T-800 model (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – the same type that has haunted his mother all these years – to protect his young self. From there on out the trio engage in epic battles with the T-1000 and attempt to possibly prevent ‘judgement day’ from ever happening.

Terminator 2 1991 James Cameron Linda Hamilton Arnold SchwarzenggerJames Cameron returns to the world of killer robots and an apocalyptic destiny with what was at the time the most expensive movie ever made. Looking back on Terminator 2 now it seems like something of a gamble.

Sure, the original Terminator was a hit in 1984, but it wasn’t such an earth-shattering smash as people might think now when it was first released. It really gained popularity through the years on cable and VHS and a strong devoted fanbase grew out of it. Cameron showed what he could do with a sci-fi sequel with Aliens in 1986. But even so investing over a $100 million budget into a sequel seven years later must of made some studio heads get some sweaty palms at times.

Luckily Cameron pulled it off and created a movie that was both admired critically and a box office juggernaut. It was the event movie of the summer of 1991. It became a landmark film for the use of its special effects and is arguably one of the greatest sequels ever made.

I recall the day when T2 (the hip way to refer to this film) came out. It was a day I was due to go on a camping trip. My friend and I made it to the camp grounds that morning and straight away went to the camp office asking where the nearest movie theater in the area was. We got quite a perplexed look. “These kids come all the way here to go camping and are now going to the movies???”.

He gave us some vague directions and immediately we set out back in the car to find that theater. We watched Terminator 2 with half our camping supplies still loaded in the car. We weren’t disappointed. Seeing T2 became the highlight of that camping trip.

I’m not going to bother rehashing the story, since if you’re reading this you’re probably already familiar with the film. Arnold is back and humanizes his T-800 a bit more as he becomes a metallic father figure to young John. This was when Arnold was at his height of fame and he was able to be a real presences with very little dialogue. It’s hard to picture anyone else being able to make the role their own as he was able to do.

Terminator 2 T1000 Robert PatrickRobert Patrick is a threatening villain as the liquid T-1000. He’s got all the nifty shape-shifting abilities which is really cool, but even just his deadly stare and fast walk conveys he is an unstoppable force heading towards you. You would think it might be difficult creating a character who would look like he could hold his own over the gigantic Arnold, but Patrick manages it.

Linda Hamilton does a complete 180 degree turn by transforming her weak, mild Sarah Connor into a tense raw muscle of a woman. I recall her portrayal of this beefed up Sarah of action got a lot of attention in the media.

It is a striking difference to the character from the original film and it’s clear Cameron and Hamilton wanted the character to grow into what would seem to be her natural trajectory. Knowing she’ll be playing an important role in the looming judgement day of course she would quit that waitressing gig. This time around a kid wouldn’t dare put his scoop of ice cream in her pocket!

Terminator 2 Judgment Day deleted scene ending Sarah ConnerThe time travel element is played with a bit more in this sequel as the trio makes contract with Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) who’s present day work at Cyberdyne Systems – that ironically centers around a piece of the 1984 T-800 – will lead to Skynet’s creation and the looming Judgment Day. Will destroying all of Dyson’s existing work be enough to change the future? It’s a question that doesn’t get a clear answer.

Although, in a notorious deleted scene from the end of the film it appears Cameron almost put a definitive end to his Terminator saga with a scene showing the elderly Sarah (Hamilton in terrible old age make-up) informing us that Judgment Day never came. It’s really a pretty bad scene.

Fortunately Cameron ditched this ending and left things more vague. Of course since a window was left open with the ‘possible’ looming Judgment Day story it has allowed later filmmakers to eagerly jump through it and continue the series.

Terminator 2 deleted scene Sarah chip cpuThere were a few deleted scenes from the movie I really liked. With Arnold having the ability to learn this time around and listening to John’s instructions and using his expressions.

I really like the scene of John and Sarah replacing his CPU head chip to make him capable of it. It shows us this will not be the same terminator as before and they have to modify him to be more of a learning computer.

Later when Arnold uses John’s slang words or learns to look for the keys to a car before he hotwires it now explains a lot. I always thought they shouldn’t have skipped over this cool scene. Without that scene it just says to me that any terminator will learn from human interaction.

I sometimes wonder had the 1984 terminator stuck around long enough would he have been so easy to teach? Somehow I can’t picture 1984 Arnold saying ‘Hasta la vista baby” after shooting up the police station and having a big grin on his face. Plus, I love how Sarah wants to destroy the chip as soon as she’s able to.

Terminator 2 mental hospital Sarah Conner John ArnoldSome other short deleted shots near the end of the film is when the T-1000 is malfunctioning at the steel mill and his liquid metal abilities are getting more and more wonky. Not only do the effects look cool, but it also shows Arnold and the gang have done some damage to this thing. Mr. Liquid Metal is no longer working one-hundred percent.

They’re both very good deleted scenes and did take a lot of time and effort to film, but I guess for whatever reasons Cameron jettisoned them.

Besides the intriguing story and compelling heroes we’re rooting for and the villain we’re fearful of there’s of course the special effects and action sequences. Watching it today Terminator 2 still looks like a well polished, big-budget blockbuster that puts most recent ones to shame. I wish there was a way of knowing just how many fans it has gained through the years who weren’t even born when it came out but discovered it years later and made them Terminator fans.

Terminator 2 1991 Schwarzenegger Furlong HamiltonThe cinematography, sound, the music. The movie continues to age with grace. Almost twenty-five years later the CGI-effects of the T-1000 still are impressive to see. I don’t understand how so much of the CGI special effects we see today look so shabby in comparison to the work that was done in 1991.

The action sequences are inventive and well choreographed as they unfold. The action and stunts feel real and continue to be impressive. I always wince when the T-1000 throws that truck driver out onto the pavement. That guy lands hard! The night scenes always happen with that metallic blue lighting Cameron always seems to love. I don’t think the mental hospital has one white light in it! There should be a petition for Crayola to make a ‘Cameron blue’ crayon color.

Terminator 2 Robert Patrick T1000I always liked the little touches that Cameron sprinkles into an effect or a sequence. The corner piece of the semi-truck that disintegrates from Arnold’s time bubble arrival. The T-1000 briefly glimpsing the silver mannequin in the mall. Arnold’s cool one handed cocking of his shotgun not slowing him up for a second on his motorcycle.

The T-1000 easily walking through the gated bars at the mental hospital, but his hand holding his gun getting stuck in them and him having to move it to get it through. The spinning, flickering fluorescent light in the elevator as the T-1000 spills through the cracks of the ceiling. The shot off piece of the T-1000’s claw stuck in the car that John tosses back out on the road (I couldn’t have been the only one shouting ‘don’t touch it! when I first saw him do that).

Linda Hamilton Sarah Conner Terminator 2 1991As much as I like T2, I can find things to complain about.

As much as she is a different and interesting Sarah Connor we meet here, Hamilton gets very melodramatic and her dark haunted performance feels a bit too hammy at points. She gets to be too overly intense in certain scenes. Some of her narration and line readings sound too overboard.

Furlong isn’t bad, but I thought he gets a bit annoying as things move along. And the T-1000 disappears and his threat gets sidetracked for a bit too long as the Skynet story takes root.

Some fans have criticized some of the humor that runs throughout the movie, but that never bothered me and I don’t think it’s overdone. It’s the next movie where it really gets out of hand. Although after repeat viewings I now cringe when ‘Bad to the Bone’ comes up on the soundtrack. It’s just such an obvious song choice.

I still prefer Arnold as a killing terminator whose height of humor is saying ‘Fuck you asshole’ to inquisitive folks and not the more humane T-800 here. Although making him the hero in the story works pretty well. It really helps that he’s up against such a dangerous adversary. And the strange father figure role that John develops for him is believable.

Comparing the original Terminator to this sequel – I’d say I still prefer the first one. The second is very good. It’s a terrific epic blockbuster of a movie, but there’s something about the low-budget, no-nonsense gritty original that makes me lean to it more. One killer robot chasing a man and woman, intense from beginning to end, no levity present anywhere. I can understand why fans rank the sequel higher and it is a great followup, but I still place the first over the second. It’s just my personal preference.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Edward Furlong Terminator 2This was the height of the Terminator franchise. I think the devoted Terminator fanbase grows out of these first two films and I’m the same way.

This was when the Terminator name meant something to me. When I saw the title ‘Terminator’ I expected to get top quality sci-fi/action entertainment. It wasn’t going to be a cheap patched together movie. Every element was going to be the best Cameron could possibly make it and he was willing to spend all the money and all the time he was allowed to in order to get it right. And the movie continues to show it decades later.

After Cameron left the Terminator series that’s when I checked out as well. Of course I’ve seen the subsequent sequels. And there were a few things I liked in them, but once the series lost Cameron’s unique vision and high standards my expectations dropped. Despite all the anticipation and excitement for another entry in the series through the passing years I’ve come to accept I’ve most likely seen the best the Terminator series can offer me.

The very cool Terminator 2 teaser trailer


4 thoughts on “Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – A Review

  1. July 1991. An era where the internet was still a pipe dream, and anticipated movies felt like events, and to this day T2 feels like a cinematic event. I first saw this film when I was six years old whilst I was on holiday in Paris where back then age restriction was a joke. I saw it on a beautiful 70mm screen with my mum. I still remember her flinching at the scenes when Arnold gets beaten up by the T1000 (as she does to this very day)

    My six year old self was left breathless at the spectacle on display, and twenty four years later I still feel the same way, mixed in with a tear induced streak of nostalgia. The film is sensational in every way; action, Arnie at his prime, a story that is engaging and interesting, and a score that will stay in your mind for years to come.

    Like The Godfather, comparing this film with its first counterpart is pointless. Both have the same essentials and both are presented in totally different ways. The first film was a gritty urrban tech noir that relied more on suspence and fright then action set pieces. The second film is a full blown action blockbuster. In other words choosing your favourite is pointless and just applaud at the fact you have two films that have essentially the same story, and you can choose which one to watch depending on your mood.

    It's pretty forgetful now how T2 was considered a risk for most studio executives. Back then, sequels were considered inferior to the original, so much so that the filmmakers behind the first entry tried to distance themselves, or at least provide a token credit (In T2's case, back in 1986 when the news of a sequel first made its rounds, Cameron was only supposed to have been a producer on the second film with future Casino Royale director Martin Campball taking the reins)

    The film was produced by Carolco Pictures, who had already scored at the box office with the Rambo films, and Total Recall and like those ambitious entries T2 very much feels like a Carolco product, ambitious, delivered on spectacle and memorable.

  2. Can you believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the role of Kyle Reese?

    I think you said something very prescient about James Cameron learning his lessons from the Aliens franchise. I think he learned two lessons. The first, is that if you want to keep things fresh you need to change the theme or tone of the film. In Aliens, he changed the movie from a slasher film on a spaceship to one about mothers and war movies. Aliens felt like a war movie in space. The theme about mothers led to his second lesson, in that in every sequal you need to introduce one new interesting element. In this case the Queen alien.

    So when Terminator 2 came around, he change the theme from the first one which was an actioneer to a film about saving humanity. The theme of saving humanity fits in nicely when you consider the characters save the Terminators humanity by making him more human. And the brand new element to shake things up in the movie was the T-1000.

    The movie also had the winning trifecta of being a big buget movie, having big stars, and having a hit song that played over and before premiering. In this case the song by Guns and Roses "You could be mine."

    I pity the people who were not there to see it roll out. It really was the event of the year. I went to see the movie twice and I now own the Blu ray.

    Ah, the memories.

  3. I agree that Linda Hamilton overdoes the macho-psycho version of Sarah Connor. Yes, the idea that she becomes focussed, fixated and more than a little unhinged at the knowledge of future history is absolutely right, but her performance is without any nuance to it and when she lays into a poor confused Dyson it's OTT…especially when she threatens his family as well.

    Other than that, I find some of the attempted humour of the violence not quite right. John Connor telling the T-100 not to kill cops is fine…but the solution is to kneecap them; still a nasty and career ending injury and yet it's played too light.

    The Terminator is a near flawless bit of film-making given its budget. T2 is slick, enjoyable and exciting but there's a bit of flab about the script and that's only going to get worse as Cameron's career continues.

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