By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, Xander Berkeley, and Jenette Goldstein
Bigger isn’t always better. While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were able to defy odds by taking their franchises to new heights with the second efforts of their respected universes, the tendency to throw more money into a previously successful film’s sequel, and build more layers around it doesn’t always work out for the best. For every Dark Knight, there are two Blues Brothers 2000s and Grease 2s. But seven years following the successful Terminator, James Cameron was ready to finish his story. After introducing Judgment Day and leaving Sarah Connor (Hamilton) a damaged heroine driving toward God knows what, Cameron decided to take all he learned on Aliens and turn Terminator 2 into a bigger budget vision of Judgment Day. The film is armed with an overall more layered story, the introduction to John Connor (Furlong), and some of the most blazing action ever put to screen. But does that make it better?
In an interesting turn of events, Cameron turns our expectations on our heads with each new character’s introduction. While Ah-nold’s Terminator gets a similar introduction as last time, the main principles are altogether different apprehensions of what we expected. When we meet John, he is in a Public Enemy shirt and stealing money from an ATM. In contrast, the clothes that the stalking T-1000 (Patrick) chooses to wear are those of a police officer. The former gives you the vision of a criminal; the latter puts you in mind of someone who protects. Combine all this with how evil Schwarzenegger was portrayed in the last film; we really don’t have an idea of what each character’s intentions are until Ah-nold tells John to ‘get down.’ It is a nice bit of swerving by Cameron, because even though Terminator 2’s ads told us otherwise, that moment puts us right in John’s head, and we now know as much as him.
Cameron shows that he obviously learned a lot from his Aliens experience, as his direction of Terminator 2 is as sharp as a pin point. The film is blanketed in an almost permanent midnight blue palette, and he uses the then innovative ‘liquid metal’ effects quite effectively for each of the sixteen minutes they were onscreen. Where he gets into trouble is in the film’s writing. While the sub-par dialogue was nothing when compared to the Star Wars prequels, lines like ’10 million sunblock’ and John having to tell The Terminator to put his leg down bordered on cheesy and edged on getting groaned at. Also, Schwarzenegger’s final scene was obviously concocted in order to get a tear jerk reaction, as the reasons behind it make no sense whatsoever. The emotion’s there, but the writing isn’t.
Speaking of John, Furlong’s performance as that character has taken heat that almost matches the viral aimed at Jake Lloyd’s as Anakin Skywalker. I am here to say that when I was thirteen, I loved every line Furlong said. As of now, I look at some of his interactions and bad line deliveries that take place in the forty minutes from the T-1000’s attack at the hospital to his next appearance, with a completely wrinkled eyebrow.
As far as other performances go, it would be hard to argue that this is the pinnacle of Hamilton’s career. Not only is she physically stronger, the mental strength she displays after being the damsel in distress in the last film is nothing short of phenomenal. Schwarzenegger is surprisingly good as the newly minted protective Terminator, and Morton’s family man persona is nicely portrayed.
Despite its faults, there are portions of Terminator 2’s script that hit a good note. I still like the story Cameron developed of John seeing The Terminator as a father figure, and the way Sarah Connor’s dreams cause her to mentally turn on the Terminator mindset by going to its creator Miles Dyson’s house in order to kill him is chillingly performed. Cameron’s decision to roll the beginning credits over a mass of fire-filled destruction caused by Judgment Day also moved the blockbuster film out of the gate in a beautifully shot way.
Make no mistake about it, this is the beginning of Cameron habit of inflating a film’s budget and marketing it to the masses. There isn’t any doubt that Terminator 2 is a good film. In fact, it is a great film, full of spectacularly staged action set pieces and heart tugging moments of clarity with a character we were only told about in the previous entry. But I missed the grimy slasher/horror elements of the last film. Also the cheesy moments of T2’s script, which were so applause inducing as a teenager, are impossible to overlook now. Nonetheless, this is Cameron at his most ambitious self, and the film’s huge financial gain would be a massive gain for all of us as well, because it would give him the green light to make even bigger (better?) pictures.