Chris Gelderd’s review published on Letterboxd:
This 1991 science fiction action film is second instalment of the Terminator franchise and directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong and Joe Morton.
11 years after the events of the 1984 arrival of the first Terminator, John Connor (Furlong) is a healthy boy and living a rebellious lifestyle in Los Angeles due to his un-caring foster parents and the fact his mother, Sarah (Hamilton) is locked up in a mental institute due to her obsession about the impending war between man and machine.
Unknown to them however, two Terminators are sent back from 2029, the advanced T-1000 (Patrick) is assigned to kill John to prevent him becoming the leader of the human resistance in the future war, and the re-programmed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) is assigned to protect him.
As both Terminators lock in on their target, chaos ensures as John and Sarah are soon thrust back into the battle to save the future as they must evade the T-1000 hot on their tracks but also find a way to prevent the looming threat of Judgement Day; the moment that the Skynet computer programme becomes self-aware and launches its revolt against humans, wiping out 3 billon lives in one day and leading to the rise of the machines…
So much can be said about a film as important and ground-breaking as this after over 20 years of constant adoration and cultural significance, but with most things I will try and keep it semi-brief. It’s important to note that out of the 3 available versions of the film I opted for the Extended Special Edition for the full 154 minute experience, hence I was open to the longer narrative structure and extended scenes that are missing from the 137 theatrical version that add on 17 more minutes.
First up is the perfect casting. Thankfully securing many original faces such as Schwarzenegger and Hamilton taking up their roles from the 1984 original which add more depth to this sequel, young Edward Furlong does the job of a fiery young John Connor perfectly. Let’s not forget he is a child, and so comes across as troubled at first but soon develops into a potential mature young man due to his responsibility learnt throughout the film being the leader of the human resistance in the future war. All three form the perfect dysfunctional family, with the “father figure” in the guise of a cyborg killer is wonderfully developed by Schwarzenegger thanks to an expanded role as the Terminator which gives him more room to flesh out his character as Connor tries to teach him what it means to be human.
This leaves room for subtle humour injected into their relationship and is nice to see without turning the Terminator into a comedy side-kick. Schwarzenegger proves once more his role as the Terminator is his defining work thanks to his imposing image and delivery of the monotone lines. He never fails to showcase his talent for action scenes in this film, building on the under-lying nightmarish character he is still from the original.
And of course we have Robert Patrick as the uber-advanced T-1000 liquid metal shape shifting Terminator which straight away makes the T-800 seem out of date and clunky. Patrick is the sleek and efficient killer that Schwarzenegger was in the 1984 original, but seemingly more humane and created to blend into the crowd more. His presence is fuelled by menace, by a silent determination in which he stalks his prey and cuts down anyone and anything in his way. Patrick embodies the role perfectly just as well as the original Terminator was; focused, nightmarish, effective and ruthless. But he moves and acts in a fluid was that his model Terminator is liken to a Porsche, and makes the T-800 look like a Panzer tank.
I am already getting carried away with the cast, but there is so much more. Fleshed out by the wonderful Joe Morton as Miles Dyson, future creator of SkyNet, and the return of Earl Boen as Dr Silberman, they add importance and gravitas to the story that uses all characters to flesh out the story in which that all play a vital part.
Director James Cameron is one of the most creative and dedicated film-makers out there. He doesn’t churn out movies yearly, but rather he waits until he has the resources to make a film he wants. Like ‘Alien’, ‘The Terminator’ and of course ‘Avatar’, each film uses the technology and cultural importance of the time to make it relevant and current. Studying Media and Film myself, it’s a joy to see that every frame of Cameron’s films speaks volumes about the film itself and what he wants to say.
The mise-en-scene and cinematography in this film are some of his best work, and the diegetic sound is perfect. Everything seems to happen naturally, but you know Cameron has crafted everything to the last detail to create a vividly entertaining and powerful film. For example, most scenes with the T-1000 are coloured in a hazy blue to signify the robotic, synthetic quality he is. The soundtrack is full of repetitive, machine like riffs that accompany both Terminators’ on screen to give a nightmarish and artificial presence to their scenes. Many camera angles focused on the T-800 are at a lower angle to remind us of his giant stature and power in every scene. In fact, it's heart-breaking to note that the only time we look down on the broken image of the T-800 in a weak state is the final moments before he goes offline, making his sudden turn of power more emotional than any other aspect of the film, and probably the series, thanks to the camera work and acting by Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Furlong.
It’s all these little moments that add to the enjoyment of the film but show how thoughtful Cameron is in directing a film as big as this. From little touches such as the T-1000 growing a third hand to pilot the helicopter whilst using 2 hands to fire his weapons and the use of real life twins and camera angles to represent character duality without CGI, these can be seen but never appreciated because they just work and never are presented in a grand way. It just happens. It’s natural within the film.
And special mention has to be said for the ground-breaking special effects. 23 years later and I was still amazed how well the transition between actor Robert Patrick and his CG T-1000 are blended better than most modern films. With the CGI used to enhance and create these futuristic killers rather than build a modern day world around them, there is less than 10 minutes of CGI creation used as it is done sparingly and never abused. Everything else is done for real with model work, miniatures, stunt doubles and brilliant make-up and costume. This is why his science fiction epic always feels that little bit real, and you hear and feel all the gun shots, the bone crunches and clashing metal.
With wonderfully gentle pacing to provide real fans of the Terminator franchise lots of back-story about the creation of the SkyNet programme that forms the backbone to the whole series, this version takes its time between the stand out action sequences to develop character relationships and the reasons that they have all been brought together. I was thankful to see more development between the T-800, John and Sarah as the nightmare of 1984 is never forgotten in Sarah’s eyes and her trust issue is still there. Dyson and the development of SkyNet is vitally important to see how a normal man can create something as deadly as the atomic bomb without even knowing it. Questions are asked, thoughts are presented but it all embodies the series we love, and I never found it boring or pointless. If I did, I would have gone for the 17 minutes reduced version, but I’d feel I was cheating myself out of something special.
But that’s my opinion and my view on a film that has vastly superior to the original, but in some ways never better because of how different they are and the tone they are both taking. The continued fight between man and machine has never been more exciting as it has been portrayed here and I can only hope that the future Terminator films take note of how beautifully crafted ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ is to tell a story and entertain audiences using a brilliant cast, steadily paced action sequences and plot development. Nothing is wasted, no sequence is over-long and the camera work thankfully lets you see the action on screen without the need for hectic ‘shaky cam’ that reduces it to a blur.
I still find it genuinely remarkable this was made in 1991 due to how crisp, smooth and visually stunning this film is. Most modern films now are proof that over-blow budgets, over-paid and egotistical actors and CGI freedom don't always guarantee a film made out of genuine passion and love, as this shows.
The unknown future of the Terminator franchise rolls toward us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope, because if a director, James Cameron, can remind us of the value of real film-making done right... maybe future directors can too.