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Classic Review: Terminator 2: Judgement Day

A classic review of the big-budget sequel to The Terminator, which sees the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-1000 in a new role as John Connor’s protector, not his hunter

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In the sequel to the much smaller-budgeted 1984 Terminator ($6 million, compared to 1991 T2’s $100 million) Arnold Schwarzenegger returns once again as a T-800 Terminator sent back in time from a post-nuclear dystopia in 2026 where machines rule and a 45-year-old John Connor leads the human resistance.

Unlike in Terminator, this time he’s been sent by the future Connor to protect his 10-year-old self from a more advanced T-1000 Terminator that can morph into any human it comes in contact with, which was sent back in time to kill him. The entire film is essentially a chase; after breaking Sarah Connor out of the institute, the three form an unlikely family that learns from each other as they try to both outrun the T-1000 and destroy the technological developments that lead to the future apocalypse.

Cameron broke the mould in many ways with T2. Terminator had a much smaller budget of $6 million compared to T2’s $100 million but Cameron still maintained a lot of the simplistic style adopted due to budget restraints faced in Terminator. For example, in the 1970s there was a rise in ‘exploitation cinema’ that exploited easy and cheap locations rather than building sets. T2 still has its fair share of expensive locations, for example the shopping mall where the two terminators first come face to face with Connor between them but the rest of the locations were typically B-movie locations such as undistinguished hallways and concrete river banks of L.A.. Therefore T2 still maintained the feeling of being a sequel to the Terminator which actually was a B-movie.

The most incredible spectacle of T2 is the action sequences. Cameron succeeded in creating a sci-fi/action hybrid and combining CGI and props with explosions and chases in the film. However the two elements were generally kept separate, meaning that almost no CGI was ever used during the chases, and real helicopters, lorries and motorbikes were filmed performing the real-life stunts and crashing and burning. In the scene when T-1000’s chasing them in a helicopter and is weaving over and under real traffic, Cameron filmed that shot himself since the crew refused to shoot it because it was too dangerous. The CGI itself also holds up well, even by modern standards. Between Terminator and T2 Cameron directed Aliens and Abyss and took some things away from both of them. There’s the awe-inspiring protective mother figure (according to The Guardian, one of the greatest workout shots is of Sarah Connor doing slow push ups using an upturned bed frame in her cell) and the similar CGI from the water-based creature in the Abyss to create the T-1000’s effects.

Around the early 90s action films were getting more and more fast-paced, however Cameron ignored that with slow-moving scenes between the action, the chases and the explosions: this film is a great antidote to Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels which lack pace completely and feel as if the released films are fast-forwarded recordings of original 4-hour length films.

The film grapples with humanity’s big issues, including weapon development and destruction, technology and sacrifice. With less overemphasis, even feminism (for example, Sarah Connor on men’s creativity in developing destructive methods vs. women’s ability to create life) and racism (the inventor whose work revolutionises the weapons industry leading to self-aware machines and the Armageddon is African-American) are handled. On weapon development and technology Cameron has stated “technology in and of itself is not evil, but there is a great potential for evil in the human misapplication of technology.”