Terminator 2: Judgement Day Retrospective
By John Hussey.
The original Terminator film was a huge success and a product of its time but it didn’t scream out for a sequel. Sure the story could have continued because of the dark notion of Judgement Day awaiting Sarah and her unborn son John, the man who would inevitably go on to become mankind’s last hope, but it wasn’t necessary to see this battle happen. The original film stood on its own merit and the ambiguous ending was enough to satisfy.However, seven years later a sequel was released called Terminator 2: Judgement Day, once again written and directed by James Cameron. In my honest opinion I believe it was a great decision to create this sequel because it stands as one of the best films on the planet and perhaps the best sequel of all times. I absolutely love this film and every re-watch is a joy, generating the same thrills and excitement that I had from my first viewing as a child.
The narrative really did shine out and reflected upon what the original film did well at whilst adding to it to deliver a greater experience. In many ways the narrative was the same but with a few twists along the way. We still had the concept of Skynet trying to alter the future by terminating John Connor within the past. This time, however, the super-computer attempted to destroy its enemy when he was a child. Like with the original John Connor’s future-self also sent back a soldier in order to protect himself from death. The bold move of this sequel was making the original antagonist the protagonist. The Terminator (reprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger) became the hero after it was reprogrammed to help the Resistance. This created a unique storyline that added to the franchise’s growing development through the simple idea of following a machine that can become human.
This was the core aspect of the film. I thought it worked beautifully and kept you engaged and fascinated through both the writing and the performances the actors brought to the screen. The Terminator was no longer a rampaging creature of destruction and instead a protector. It would follow John’s every command, be there for him when he needed it and most importantly die for John. It was poetic. The interesting thing was seeing the original antagonist no longer a force to be reckoned with because of the focus on the machines humanity. This Terminator slowly learnt from John and challenged itself to be more than just a killing machine. There were many brilliant moments that demonstrated that the Terminator didn’t feel or understand human emotions or thought. In all of these moments John questioned the machines resolve and taught it to learn to be something different, from learning new phrases, understanding human behaviour and most importantly learning to appreciate human life.
Of course the new element to the film was the addition of the T-1000. This new Terminator was comprised of liquid metal, making it much faster, resistant and resourceful than the original Terminator design. This made the Terminator vulnerable, unlike within its original appearance, reducing it to Kyle Reece’s position from the original film. The great part about the T-1000 was its incredible design. Its ability to warp sharp, turning itself into other people and creating sharp weapons to attack its enemy, made it a force to be reckoned with.
Robert Patrick brought a unique performance that counteracted Arnold’s. Patrick felt even more inhuman than Arnold’s original appearance despite appearing more human within its behaviour. Arnold came across as a robotic killer whereas the T-1000 was a silent assassin that assessed its situation in order to advance its mission to kill its target. Also the fact that the T-1000 was slimmer, and less fierce in appearance made the creature all the more dangerous because its hidden potential made you under-estimate it. This made the scenes where the two Terminators fought all the more exciting because Patrick was smaller and less muscular than Arnold, to which stunned the audience when the T-1000 actually gained the upper hand and started throwing the Terminator about. The other unique thing about its design was its indestructible nature. Every bullet that entered its body caused damaging effects through piercing its body. However, these wounds could be healed instantly through repetitive regenerative capabilities, making the Terminator’s battle against it all the more difficult.
Sarah Connor’s advancement as a character was very dramatic. She fell away from being the damsel and was now a fully fledged soldier that didn’t care about what she said or did. What mattered to her was the cause. Because of this new attitude she got herself locked away in a psychiatric ward, doctored by the very man (Peter Silberman) that tried calling Kyle insane within the first film. These parts of the film are powerful to watch because Sarah was reduced as a character and pretty much dominated by a system that was corrupt. What made matters worse was that John was taken from her and the system in fact turned him against her. It was the horrible notion that even though Sarah sounded insane with her accusations she was in fact telling the truth. Her hostility was out of fear, made worse by her repetitive dreams which showcased the devastation of Judgement Day. These dream sequences are horrific to observe because we witness civilisation as we know it turn to dust in seconds, without warning or any means of preventing it. This change in character made her a very different person as she was no longer human in the normal sense, torn between worlds in order to prevent something that nobody else believed.
The chemistry between her and John, however, was what made her human. In a deleted scene after she attempted to assassinate Miles Dyson she admitted to John how much she loved him, despite barely showing this prior in the film, and John expressed how he knew this. In many ways it was horrible to see such an innocent character become a masculine creature built for war, created by the paranoia of the future, but at the same time it did serve as character development in which she became a stronger person that could fight against destiny through whatever means.
One of the unique moments that tested her character was when she tried assassinating Dyson. In that moment she realised that the man before her, though known to be the cause of Judgement Day, was just an innocent man; a loving husband and father. He wasn’t a corrupt man with ambition but a scientist trying to help the world, unaware of the dangers that he may cause. This forced her to reconsider committing the finishing blow and stood down. Altering the future at the cost of murder would have made her no better than Skynet.
Another brilliant moment which tested Sarah’s humanity was the scene between her and Kyle, which was sadly deleted. This came about through a dream sequence where Kyle (reprised by Michael Biehn) returned to her to give her strength. It was a beautiful moment and really showcased their love as they passionately kissed one another. This scene also reflected the sadness that Sarah had over his death and the strong feelings they had for one another. It was a massive shame Kyle had to die and that Sarah was left alone. This symbolic scene granted Sarah the courage to keep motivating herself to protect her son for Kyle. Her feelings for Kyle were referenced by John later on in the film when talking to the Terminator about his mum.
The other thing that tested Sarah throughout the film was her trust with the Terminator. Having seen the previous one in action she was sceptical over its ability to be a protector, believing it to be nothing more than a killing machine. Also there was the factor that the previous one almost killed her and also caused Kyle’s death. In a deleted scene during the garage sequence Sarah tried to destroy the Terminator’s chip whilst John was trying to reprogram it, in order to free it from Skynet’s influence. John defended the Terminator and ordered her to follow his judgement. During the scene where John teaches the Terminator the art of ‘high-five’ Sarah realised that the Terminator would always be there for her son and even die for him. At the very end she actually shuck the Terminator’s hand out of respect for the work it had done for them both, especially John. The epilogue even had her gain hope towards the future because of the Terminator’s actions, believing if a machine could learn about human behaviour then humanity could too.
The narrative got very interesting when the Terminator aided Sarah and John in preventing the future. This notion even got Miles involved, after he was informed about what he will cause. What made Miles’s involvement with Judgement all the more ironic was that his research was based upon the remains of the first Terminator, causing the ultimate paradox into Skynet’s creation. Sadly Miles ended up dying for the cause of destroying his own research. During the Cyberdyne Systems raid the Terminator began to showcase its understanding of humanity by clearing the area of police without causing any causalities. This was a very important scene in the Terminator’s final development.
Then came the ultimate battle for survival during the T-1000’s final pursuit, with some of it resembling the original film’s ending, i.e. the truck chase and ending up in a factory environment. It was a fantastic scene when the T-1000 began to freeze due to its exposure to liquid nitrogen. Then the Terminator said its iconic line, ‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ before shooting the T-1000 and shattering it. Unfortunately the heat from the Steel Mill melted the frozen pieces and allowed the creature to reform. The Terminator began making the ultimate sacrifice to protect John by facing the T-1000 alone and inevitably got damaged in the process. These scenes are sad to watch because we see the Terminator’s humanity stripped away as the machine underneath is revealed through the constant wounds the T-1000 inflicts. It was interesting though in deleted scenes to see the T-1000 also enduring wounds through its morphing capabilities malfunctioning after it was shattered.
After a long, hard battle the T-1000 was finally slain after the Terminator made a surprise attack and shot it with an M79 grenade launcher, causing the creature to fall into molten metal. The T-1000’s death scene is among one of the most horrific scenes of all time. It’s almost disturbing the way it screams and morphs into its different disguises and inhuman shapes before finally melting away. Then came the heartbreaking moment where the Terminator committed self-termination in order to aid in preventing Skynet’s existence. This powerful scene always makes me sad. You have seen it and John form a unique friendship, seen the Terminator risk everything to protect John and also learnt from him to become more than just a machine and now we had to see it die. What made the scene sadder was the Terminator confirming its final understanding of humanity. Continuing from a previous scene in which the Terminator asked why humans cry, it declared to a crying John (who did not want the Terminator to leave him) that it finally learnt the meaning of sadness but unfortunately could never show such an emotion due it to being a machine. The music of this scene merely added to the heartbreak and simply made you want to cry. It was the ultimate sacrifice and completed the Terminator’s brilliant character development. This core element made Terminator 2: Judgement Day the ultimate journey and really taught us about ourselves through the eyes of a machine becoming human.
I absolutely love this movie and if I had to make a top 10 list of my favourite movies and another top 10 list for my favourite sequels, Terminator 2: Judgement Day would make it into both of them without a doubt. It is a memorable movie that really hits you because of its core themes, the exciting, action-packed and touching narrative along with the outstanding acting and continuous visionary of James Cameron (in both writing and directing). One cannot go without mentioning Brad Fiedel’s score. He out did himself within this sequel and even expanded the theme music, making it even more iconic. The score of this film really added a whole new layer of atmosphere and tension throughout and accompanied the action in every scene perfectly. Finally the superb special effects raised the bar in terms of what filmmakers could accomplish. The CGI involved was simply ahead of its time and even to this day looks outstanding, making the T-1000’s design something that could be considered real.
My advice for this movie would be to go and watch it if you haven’t already seen it. You won’t regret it. It’s a timeless classic and I guarantee in a hundred years time we’ll still be talking about this sequel and all its glory. Now onward to the third instalment of this franchise where, in my eyes, we started to go a bit shaky.