Pardon my age, but I actually remember when I first heard the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger was playing a GOOD Terminator in James Cameron’s whip-smart sequel to his stripped back, low budget, sci-fi/action classic.
The news went off like a Skynet launched nuke inside my head; the Terminator? A white hat? Whatever next, make another Jaws film where the shark learns the error of it’s people eating ways and trains an Olympic swim team, or a heart warming rags to riches story where Texas Chainsaw’s Leatherface goes on to win Master Chef? And yet, when examined in more depth, the concept of cheering on Arnold’s unstoppable carnage machine is undeniably a mouth watering one that extends far further than just a mere marketing tool and is a sobering commentary on the nature of what constitutes to human behavior. Well, that and a lot of bitchin’ car chases and explosions.
It turns out that Skynet, the people hating computer program that tried to end live as we know it in an apocalyptic future didn’t just send one Terminator back in time. It actually sent two (the only part of James Cameron’s script that could remotely be called up for lazy writing), the second being a prototype Terminator made of liquid metal that can appear as anyone and form various stabby things at will from it’s own mass. This inhuman killer has been sent to the 90’s to do in the future leader of the resistance, John Connor but luckily a repurposed and reprogrammed Arnie Terminator model has been sent back to protect the precocious 10 year old, but can this obsolete model possibly hope to stand up to an assasin so fluidly versatile it can disguise itself as a part of freaking floor?
Cameron has been renowned for his intelligent work forging sequels that build upon and compliment their predecessor thanks to his superlative work on Aliens, and here he equals that accomplishment fantastically. While many sequels end up being creatively redundant by following the orignal too closely Cameron gives you many scenes and themes from The Terminator but in a way that makes it all seem uniquely fresh. A very nude Arnie violently commandeers clothes again, the climax takes place in a factory/foundry again, huge trucks bear down on smaller vehicles again and the T-800 clears out a room of cops again but everything is done in a different way or subverted in such a style it all seems utterly new.
What also feels new is the character progression for the two main returning cast members. Arnie’s factory reset to good guy means that a souless murder machine can become a protective father figure who can break it’s programming and make decisions for itself but it’s Linda Hamilton’s returning Sarah Connor who truly impresses as a super-ripped survivalist, more cold and shut off than either of the chrome coloured robots battling each other for the future of mankind. Subverting and repurposing the action hero as a vengeful mother figure arguably better than he did by plonking Sigourney Weaver into a power loader and getting her to right hook an 18 foot biomechanical Queen monster, Cameron and Hamilton make Connor one of the most intriguing female characters in 90’s action movie history.
But let’s not forget the villain, after all, who can follow up Schwarzenegger’s menacing turn in the original? Robert fucking Patrick, that’s who with his lithe Porsche-esque physique ably squaring up to Arnie’s tank-like muscle convincingly. Making a villain clad as a police officer (i.e authority) in a film set in 1990’s Los Angeles barely two months after the Rodney King beatings makes T2’s commentary go a little further than simply “mankind will kill itself through technology” and the fact that the bleeding edge tech of the T-1000 doesn’t retain any damage makes the T-100 seem horribly fragile. When chunks fell of the Austrian Oak back in 84′ it was terrifyingly representative of how truly unstoppable he is but now that Arnold is a super-mega-star, any point where his iconic visage is torn make him feel vulnerable to his nemesis’ bludgeoning attacks. But despite all of the above, maybe Cameron’s greatest triumph was dropping in a pre-teen kid into the middle of the grinding metal and budget consuming fire balls who DOESN’T irritate the audience into wishing someone would beat him to death with his own right arm. Now THAT’S impressive.
Obscenely iconic (there’s not a single shot of Schwarzenegger in the film that wouldn’t make a fantastic movie poster) and relentlessly game changing (ILM and Stan Winston’s surrealist work on the T-1000’s form morphing abilities evokes everything to Salvdor Dali to John Carpenter’s The Thing) Terminator 2 is pretty much top of the line in 90’s action cinema and is an accomplishment in quality Cameron himself arguably hasn’t achieved since (Titanic and Avatar are fine, but they’re not exactly Terminator 1 & 2 and their CERTAINLY not Aliens), and still inspires other actioner to this day (Captain Marvel’s earth scenes are VERY 90’s Cameron.
He said he’d be back we’re glad he did because T2 is A-1.