Overview: Two Terminators are sent back in time from the future; one is tasked with killing John Connor, and the other with saving him. 1991; Carolco Pictures; Rated R; 136 minutes.
Then and Now: I don’t know if Terminator 2: Judgement Day could have been made in the Internet age. Ignoring the fact that we would all know that Arnie is a goodie within two seconds of the movie getting greenlit, can you imagine the comments when the plotline was released? I mean, this movie, on a basic plot level, is simply a rehash of its predecessor (Twitter circa 1992 could have been aflame with snarky comments and poorly made memes, in an alternate time line, that is). And yet, T2 succeeds. It’s basically a rehash of the first film’s one sentence by-line, but manages to make enough little shifts that it feels like something brand new. Terminator 2 never feels like a more expensive remake of The Terminator. Instead, It feels like a continuation of a story still in play. Yes, the idea that the machines have tried to rig the game by killing John Connor before he can grow up to be the great leader of the rebellion is the same, but the key difference is in the presentation.
Take a Step to the Side: First, every character takes a step to one side. John Connor takes over the Sarah Connor role from The Terminator, the T1000 replaces the T800, and Sarah and Arnie replace Kyle Reese (because Kyle Reese requires two people to replace him). T2 then avoids the 80’s techno-noir (technoir?) setting of the first film by depicting scenes in which the LA sun is blazing so we can see the action unfold in bring light instead of amid shadows. This definitively helps move T2 closer to a pure action film where The Terminator could easily be labeled as a straight horror film. And finally, James Cameron added something that was completely missing from directorial debut: Humor. Arnie’s deadpan delivery makes his every line of dialogue into a punchline, but he’s used sparingly, so there is no worry that he will change from cold killing machine to clown (something Terminator 3 badly misjudges).
Sarah Connor Reborn: The stand out in this movie is Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Kudos to James Cameron for not going the easy route and simply making her the last girl in the horror movie again. Instead, he follows a more interesting path and actually tries to imagine what the events of The Terminator would do to someone psychologically. What would you do if one minute you were a waitress and the next you were the mother of the savior of mankind? In Sarah Connor’s case, she decides that if there is a war coming then she will be ready for it. She is tough, well-trained, and capable, introduced in this movie doing pull ups in a mental hospital, and looking like a human weapon, ready to strike. I think my favorite touch in this movie comes when John and the Terminator go to rescue Sarah from the hospital only to find she is already nearly free anyway, after enacting her own escape attempt. We see straightaway that even without John and Arnie she can hold her own, and Cameron doesn’t undercut her new character dynamic by making her a damsel in distress for the men/machine to save.
Overall: In the annals of great sequels, T2 is stands in high regard. While lacking in some of the horror movie elements of the first that make that movie so compelling, T2 delivers as a bigger, brighter, and better sequel, and definitely succeeds in the first two categories, and (for a lot of people) succeeds in the third as well.