Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Terminator 2 was one of the first movies I saw after I first started to watch films "seriously", and it was also one of the most important; between it and Aliens, I was immediately ready to crown James Cameron as the undisputed KING of sci-fi/action spectacle. I mean, this baby seemed near-flawless when I first saw it, and, while a recent rewatch did alert me to a few issues I didn't notice previously (and brought it down in my esteem slightly), it's still a really strong film in general, and well worth watching.

Firstly, let's get the problems out of the way; while, like Aliens, T2's plot does a good job of following up the fallout from its predecessor, some of the exposition still feels clunky and rushed, and forced in that way only unnatural movie dialogue can be. Additionally, if you thought the motherhood theme embodied by Ripley & Newt was obvious in that movie, just wait until you see the shot of a dark highway here, as Linda Hamilton talks about how the future seems like a dark highway in front of her; oh, REALLY? Finally, Edward Furlong's John Connor is often really annoying here, with his voice constantly cracking with the whine of puberty, and his dialogue sounding less like a real kid, and more like a 37 year-old man's idea of a real kid, giving off attitude through pointless insults, "hardcore" one-liners, and general disrespectfulness. I mean, I respect how Cameron was trying to contrast his present character against his great destiny, but dangit man, tone that stuff down!

Besides all of that, however, T2 still holds up very well as an essential work of Sci-Fi Action, with a tense atmosphere that can only be described as positively menacing, suspensful chase sequences, and plenty of over the top, excellently choreographed stuntwork. Robert Patrick gives a great performance with often nothing more than an icy stare as the liquid metal Terminator, and his new powers are taken full advantage of in both a conceptual sense (arms that become swords, physically imitating other people down to the last molecule, slowly, painfully being frozen by liquid nitrogen), and in a visual sense as well, with the film's groundbreaking CGI rightfully winning it an Oscar for Best Effects (along with three others), as they still hold up surprisingly well today, even over a quarter of a century on.

I also appreciate how Cameron didn't let the bigger budget go to his head, and didn't just make a bigger-is-better rehash of the original, but rather, mirrored the original Terminator in smart ways throughout; of course, there's the now-famous twist of making the T-800 the good guy, but the character development goes deeper than that, with Arnie having more to chew on as an actor, as a "living" version of his most famous role, a machine who gets to learn about the human condition. The way he becomes more and more human throughout is a nice contrast to Sarah's arc, with her obsession with stoppng "Judgement Day" by any means necessary, even murder, almost turns her into a human Terminator herself, before she pulls herself back from that brink. And, speaking of Sarah, her relationship with John adds a lot to the film, annoyances with his character/performance aside; the scene where he cries after she berates him for risking his life to save HER'S, always gets me somewhere deep down.

It's smart storytelling like this, along with the exciting action and spectacle, that's established T2 as an enduring essential of American cinema, and, while it doesn't hold up exactly as well now as it did for me the first couple of watches, I still like it a lot, and give it a mostly unqualified recommendation. Go watch it if you want to live.