Rated R for strong sci-fi action and violence, and for language.
Running time: 137 min.
Release date: July 3, 1991
In 1984, James Cameron brought us The Terminator, the story of a machine from the future sent back to the past to kill the mother of the future's resistance leader. Now here in Cameron's sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a machine is once again sent back in time, this time to kill the adolescent John Connor (Edward Furlong). This machine is different from the original one and considered to be much more dangerous. Future John Connor sends a second machine back in time to intercept the new killer. The audience, at first, wonders which machine is the killer and which is the protector. This angle is a fresh take on the original film in what ends up being a fantastic thrill ride of action and tension, with groundbreaking visual effects.
Young John Connor is a rebellious pre-teen who lives with foster parents. His mother (Linda Hamilton) has been admitted to a mental institution after getting caught breaking the law. Her psychiatrist (Earl Boen) suggests a lengthy stay after her most recent outburst. Meanwhile, young John works on his dirt bike, steals money in a high-tech manner, and heads off to the arcade with friends. Just prior to this, we get the arrival of a terminator, once again played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He walks into a biker bar completely naked and demands the clothes and bike of one of the patrons. Of course, this leads to what you would expect to see, and the terminator rides off to the tune of "Bad to the Bone" by George Thorogood. Not long after, we get a second terminator arrive in the same manner, but this one assumes the identity of a police office and is off in search of John Connor. The intentions of either machine are left ambiguous for the first 30 minutes until we get a shoot out in the mall between the two machines.
Robert Patrick plays the new and improved terminator (dubbed the T-1000) and is perfectly suited for the role. His cold, expressionless face as he chases after John on foot is very menacing and works very well. You never get the sense that the machine wants to give up after having his murder attempts foiled. He keeps coming and coming and Robert Patrick never once lets on that he is a human playing a machine. The visual effects surrounding this new character are truly a sight to behold. Apparently made out of liquid metal, the T-1000 can shape-shift into objects he touches. The great Stan Winston teamed up with Industrial Light & Magic to create a villain that by now has become iconic. The effects earned this film an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
As the story continues, John discovers that the terminator assigned to protect him (Schwarzenegger) can be ordered to do his bidding. This is a neat twist that the screenplay and plot present, as a young boy essentially has a pet robot at his disposal. The terminator becomes a sort-of father figure-type for young John while he, in turn, teaches the terminator to act more human by using slang and high-fives. This gives Terminator 2: Judgment Day the edge over the original film, by establishing a relationship between these two characters, giving the film more emotional impact. John orders the terminator to help him bust his mother out of the hospital. This leads to another confrontation with the T-1000. Every time the T-1000 appears on screen, the story picks up in pace. The film does have some slow-moving scenes in the middle, as Sarah Connor comes to grips with the reality of being partnered with a machine that once tried to kill her, while dreaming about the future that is yet to be determined.
Joe Morton plays Miles Dyson, director at Cyberdine, the corporation that will eventually create the computer entity known as Skynet. He is violently confronted by Sarah, but eventually he is brought up to speed, thanks to a convincing assist by the terminator. He agrees to destroy all files related to his work, in order to prevent Skynet from coming into existence, thus possibly avoiding the end of the world. This leads to a battle with every member of the LAPD along with the T-1000. Another aspect that James Cameron does well is choreograph the high-speed chases. Cameron is quite adept at shooting thrilling scenes involving big rigs, dirt bikes, motorcycles, police cruisers and helicopters.
Young Edward Furlong displayed quite a bit of energy as John Connor, a sharp-witted character with all range of emotions bubbling under the surface. Linda Hamilton is physically strong and mentally unhinged, making for a wild-card character. However, she also, in her own way, displays the nurturing mother for a son with an important future. Together, the terminator, John and Sarah forge a nontraditional pseudo-family unit, looking out for one another.
The film is at its strongest during the high-impact action scenes, as they are relentless, much like the terminators in the film. The movie slows down almost to a halt in the contemplative middle portion, but at the same time this portion contains the more poignant scenes with the attempted humanizing of the good machine. Movies that utilize time travel are prone to paradoxes that are best left ignored, which is what the screenplay does. It all adds up to a special-effects driven, action-filled technical masterpiece from Cameron.