James Cameron (Avatar, Aliens) is responsible for several exceptional science fiction films over the last 40 years, but Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) is his magnum opus. Contemporary filmmakers like Michael Bay (Transformers) have been trying to replicate its magic ever since, but have only managed to blow out people’s eardrums and give viewing audiences vertigo. Terminator 2 taps into an audience’s soul by earnestly activating concerns people have always had about control, infiltration, and corruption. And it does it in a way that feels just plausible enough to keep you from scoffing at the premise. 32 years after its release, T2 is more relevant than ever and that is a testament to its vision and technical brilliance.
While one can certainly classify T2 as an “action flick,” doing so would be a bit of an insult. The film’s meticulous attention to detail and exceptional cinematography deserve more reverence. From the metallic shine and texture of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) to the intricate mechanical components of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Cameron consistently renders everything about T2 with an unmatched sense of continuity and accuracy. Every bullet hole and burn that the T-800 incurs is consistently applied to Schwarzenegger’s body and accounted for in subsequent scenes. Cameron captures the majesty of the T-1000’s movements through the use of wide shots, tracking shots, and close-ups. The bevy of angles enables the film to provide a dynamic viewing experience that similar movies trip over themselves trying to accomplish. (Ahem…Michael Bay.) Cameron’s expert level craftsmanship imbues Judgement Day’s pre-apocalyptic world with an immersive authenticity that elevates it beyond just being an “action flick.”
T2’s character performances also play a huge part in the film’s success. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the iconic player of the franchise, but Linda Hamilton’s portrayals of Sarah Connor have always made her a standout element of the films. (Quite frankly, she’s the only thing that makes Terminator: Dark Fate watchable.) The T2 iteration of Connor is probably Hamilton’s best though because she goes full mama bird! Conner is willing to die to protect her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), and her “at all costs” commitment really touches you. Additionally, she’s a great foil for the T-800 and even more so for the T-1000 because she is intensely human. Cameron uses Sarah Connor to coax you into a complicated analysis of feminine ferocity and stoic masculinity, and it makes the movie quite engaging.
Another engaging component of T2 is Robert Patrick’s fantastic portrayal of the T-1000. The sterile personality and calculated violence that he brings to the role embody exactly what everybody fears about artificial intelligence (other than it taking our jobs). Patrick’s unrelentingly perfect hair, his refusal to fatigue, and his piercing blue eyes portend nothing but bad intentions, but you can’t help but be impressed by him. He’s a marvel and a menace! The way Patrick presents a psychotic level of determination without any emotional compromise makes the T-1000 an all-time villain that we’re all still scared is lurking in the future.
The stunt work and special effects of T2 are stars of the film as well. The chase scenes are full of spectacle, but not in a goofy, over-the-top Fast and Furious way. The visual representation of the T-1000’s ability to liquify, transmogrify, and set again like a bowl of gelatin is just as mind-blowing the second or third time you watch it. As a former Army pilot, I swoon every time I watch the movie incorporate the Bell 206 helicopter that has been a staple in action movies since the 1980s. It’s all so enchanting because Cameron’s use of special effects is just restrained enough to make the Judgement Day world feel tangible if not inevitable. And while the physics don’t always add up in T2, the movie still effectively forces audiences to contemplate the not so preposterous potential of facing literal killing machines.
In the context of modern life, Terminator 2: Judgement Day doesn’t feel as surreal as it feels possible. In a current world where AI seems to be infiltrating every facet of our lives, T2 validates your paranoia. Unmanned aerial vehicles fly autonomously all over the world delivering Amazon packages (and Hellfire missiles). Roombas scurry across our hardwood floors while they eavesdrops on our conversations. And now AI is writing research papers for college students! John Connor is exasperated with us…
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is available on all major platforms.