Terminator 2 (1991)
February 25, 2018 10:24 AM - Subscribe

A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her ten year old son, John Connor, from a more advanced cyborg.

Rogerebert.com: While "The Terminator" was a great horror film, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a great action film. While "The Terminator" was about the horror of an unstoppable harbinger of a technologically-advanced but soul-dead present, "Terminator 2" is, like so many action films before it, a paradoxically violent screed against violence.

NYTimes: A cautionary tale, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" anticipates nuclear disaster in the year 1997 unless there is intervention from the forces of good, who happen to specialize in shootouts, clubbings, slammings, poundings and explosions. This tirelessly violent, ultimately exhausting film has the utter sincerity of all good science fiction, and a lot more flair than most, but it suffers from a certain confusion of purpose. In the end, it amounts to quite the pistol-packing plea for peace.

Entertainment Weekly: This reckless indifference to human life is, of course, intrinsic to the appeal of Terminator 2. The movie is a great big feast of wreckage. But that’s also what makes it a bit numbing. At one point, Sarah’s son, whom Arnold is programmed to obey, forces him to pledge that he won’t kill anyone. Arnold takes the pledge — and then, in order to stay true to it, he keeps shooting people in the kneecaps and smashing them against walls not quite forcefully enough to kill them. I kept wondering if Arnold’s pledge was such a good idea. From the looks of it, these people may live, but they’ll all end up in wheelchairs. Terminator 2 is a state-of-the-art action movie, all right: It gets you thinking that the most reasonable thing might just have been to blow everyone away.

Roger Ebert: The key element in any action picture, I think, is a good villain.

“Terminator 2” has one, along with an intriguing hero and fierce heroine, and a young boy who is played by Furlong with guts and energy. The movie responds to criticisms of excessive movie violence by tempering the Terminator’s blood lust, but nobody, I think, will complain that it doesn't have enough action.

Slant: Like its predecessor, T2 is a blend of action and horror, and, as in most films belonging to either of those genres, it has a reactionary streak about which it’s fascinatingly unresolved. Cameron’s self-conscious enough to know that he can’t have his “good” Terminator killing people willy-nilly, especially as played by a man who became a superstar by softening the hard and narcissistic image that he honed in Pumping Iron. And so John must teach the T-800 to be more sympathetic, which entails shooting innocent people in the kneecaps, causing them great pain and potentially handicapping them but providing us with the sensory exaltation that’s expected of action cinema, only without the guilt that might go with laughing along with outright murder. In this sense, T2 divorces audiences of responsibility in a fashion that suggests the pop-cultural equivalent of, well, drones. Carnage is diluted so as to pair ideally with our supersize Coke and popcorn.

WaPo: Cameron manages to create a neat balance between the technical and the human here; so much so that this surfaces as one of the movie's themes. Most of the actors make strong statements, including Hamilton, who's Nautilused herself into the form of a modern-day Diana, and Furlong, who gives one of the loosest performances for a child actor ever filmed. As the brain behind SkyNet, the computer that goes out of control and causes the nuclear nightmare, Joe Morton also makes the most of a few minutes on screen.

No one in the movies today can match Cameron's talent for this kind of hyperbolic, big-screen action. Cameron, who directed the first "Terminator" and "Aliens," doesn't just slam us over the head with the action. In staging the movie's gigantic set pieces, he has an eye for both grandeur and beauty; he possesses that rare director's gift for transforming the objects he shoots so that we see, for example, the lyrical muscularity of an 18-wheel truck. Because of Cameron, the movie is the opposite of its Terminator character; it's a machine with a human heart.

Trailer

Terminator 2: Judgment Day at 20

How Terminator 2: Judgment Day Changed the Blockbuster Game

Terminator 2: Sarah Connor isn't the feminist icon James Cameron thinks she is...but she could be.

How Terminator 2's effects changed film forever - by the legend that made them

The Terminator timeline: a guide for the (understandably) confused

The Making Of Terminator 2: Judgment Day

‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ filming locations, mapped

Terminator 2 and the world’s biggest spoiler

The big action and little problems of Terminator 2: Judgment Day
posted by MoonOrb (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of my great movie regrets is that I saw this before The Terminator, already knowing the premise (from a trailer? cultural osmosis?). Schwarzenegger's Terminator and much more importantly, Hamilton's Sarah Connor undergo such a shift from the first movie that you miss a lot if you're just seeing this one.

I see that in the "world's biggest spoiler" link, they actually gave away the T-800's role reversal in a trailer. How annoying!
posted by ODiV at 10:57 AM on February 25, 2018


Well, and I lucked out on this one: I never saw the original, nor any trailer, and I was delightfully confused for the first act.

To this day I make a point to avoid trailers and reviews for movies I look forward to.
posted by flamewise at 11:35 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can't even remember now if the trailer spoiled it for me or if I just read it somewhere, but I was rather surprised on actually watching it to realize that it was supposed to be a secret that Robert Patrick wasn't supposed to be the Michael Biehn of this movie. Without the trailer spoiler, I think that they could have pulled it off; Patrick is at his most human when he's talking to John Conner's foster parents, and the mask only starts to slip when he spots John and starts knocking kids out of the way when he's chasing him.

It's still a great movie regardless; it's one that I can sit down and watch with real pleasure just about any time. One link that I'd add is David Foster Wallace's essay that describes T2 as "F/X porn", if only to show how a good writer can get something so badly wrong. He cherry-picks examples of directors doing better work earlier in their careers rather than later, when they have bigger budgets, as if there weren't a blindingly obvious alternative explanation for that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:25 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the Entertainment Weekly review: Sarah’s son, whom Arnold is programmed to obey, forces him to pledge that he won’t kill anyone ... I kept wondering if Arnold’s pledge was such a good idea. From the looks of it, these people may live, but they’ll all end up in wheelchairs.

WTF!??!?

Anyway, the soundtrack really makes this movie, it's an incredible compliment to several scenes and its lack was one of the most prevalent flaws of the sequel, which was not so bad for an action movie, but ultimately pretty forgettable.

I need to figure out when T1 and T2 are age appropriate so I can show them to my kids and hopefully have their heads explode when they get to the reveal in T2 that Arnold is the good guy.
posted by skewed at 1:24 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


🔥🔥🔥🔥👎🔥🔥🔥🔥
posted by fleacircus at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2018


I kept wondering if Arnold’s pledge was such a good idea. From the looks of it, these people may live, but they’ll all end up in wheelchairs.

WTF!??!?


I think the point being made is, the Terminator tends to follow this pledge in a very literal fashion, and inflicts a shitload of injuries on humans that technically don't kill them but likely will result in lifelong disability. Not killing people is a good goal, but the simplicity of the order leaves him a lot of leeway to do awful things.

so ... many ... kneecap shots
posted by tocts at 5:32 PM on February 25, 2018


That argument is essentially "It's better to be dead than disabled." And that is a horrendous thing to say.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:23 PM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


We've got company! Police!

How many?

Uh... all of 'em, I think.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:30 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


skewed: "I need to figure out when T1 and T2 are age appropriate"

Don't forget that there's a sex scene in T1.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:00 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Saw this for the 3d re-release last fall and re-remembered how amazingly well constructed a film it it. The pacing and editing are so good that you don't even realized how long it is until it's over.
posted by octothorpe at 8:01 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is the first movie I saw three-plus times in the theater. It knocked my young socks clean off, and probably influenced my worldview in ways I don't yet understand and might be disturbed by if I did.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:17 AM on February 26, 2018


Looking at these as time travel movies, the moral of the first movie is that, in trying to prevent the future, one inevitably brings it about -- it's very determinist. The second movie, in contrast, indicates that the future isn't written, and that people can change it if they try. I find the former a more satisfyingly internally consistent view of time travel, so I tend to prefer the original movie to the sequel. (Plus, the second movie has the T1 getting onto a motorcycle while 'Bad to the Bone' is playing, which, well.) I do like both.

Anyway, since the two points of view (determinist vs. free will) were each given a movie, I never felt inclined to see any of the other sequels, which is probably a dumb reason not to watch them, but I gather that there are other, better, reasons to give 'em a miss.
posted by jwgh at 6:42 AM on February 26, 2018


I would rather be shot in the knee than killed.
posted by maxsparber at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2018


Well, yeah?

I mean, to be clear: I'm in no way arguing death is better than disability. Maybe I'm being too charitable in reading that reviewer as also not actually believing that, but didn't get the words out right?

I think there's a reasonable (small) point to be made that in a movie that is in part about how maybe even a sentient killing machine could learn the value of human life (particularly in the extended cut that makes this more explicit), John Connor is never shown going "uh ... maybe I should be more specific in my order and tell the Terminator at my command that it's also not cool to inflict grievous bodily harm on people either", which is how I read that reviewer's aside.

Also:

(Plus, the second movie has the T1 getting onto a motorcycle while 'Bad to the Bone' is playing, which, well.)

It's so on the borderline, but I give it a pass. It's the only earned version of this scene in any movie (just barely).
posted by tocts at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2018


Anyway, since the two points of view (determinist vs. free will) were each given a movie, I never felt inclined to see any of the other sequels

In the third movie, they directly contradict the entire message of the second one, re free will. It was slightly annoying, but it was an action time-travel movie so I didn't get too upset.

I mean, to be clear: I'm in no way arguing death is better than disability. Maybe I'm being too charitable in reading that reviewer as also not actually believing that, but didn't get the words out right?

Yeah, I get you, and I tried re-reading that bit with my charitable-interpretation mindset in overdrive, and maybe that's what the author meant. However, the straightforward interpretation is just so gross that it should never have made print, even in 1992.
posted by skewed at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2018


I hated that he used Bad to the Bone when I saw it originally but on the most recent view it didn't bother me that much.
posted by octothorpe at 9:29 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


(Plus, the second movie has the T1 getting onto a motorcycle while 'Bad to the Bone' is playing, which, well.)

My summer job for two years running was with our local multiplex. Our boss asked that all the ushers "patrol" the theaters - every fifteen minutes we had to enter each movie, walk down the aisle to the front of the room, and then walk back; looking over the crowd to see if anything was amiss, but also just sort of being a visual reminder that We Were Watching. The summer that Terminator 2 was there, I always tried to time two of my Usher Walks to hit two moments - this one, and the moment when the T-1000 falls into the molten metal.

I also used my employee discount to see it in full. At the time, I was having periodic severe nightmares about nuclear war - and when Sarah Connor had her own such nightmare, I was absolutely not expecting to see the contents of my own head being projected on a 50-foot screen with THX sound. It gave me the one and only panic attack I've ever had - I scrambled over people's laps and ran out to the lobby, and sat out there for about 20 minutes panting and wide-eyed before venturing back in. For a full year afterward, whenever anyone showed Terminator 2 on a VHS or DVD at their house, that was about the point I'd always suddenly need to go to the bathroom or get a soda, and I'd cower in another room for a couple minutes until the scene was over.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I remember watching this with my dad in the theater, after the marketing blitz of liquid metal dude and Arnold being the good guy, and complaining indignantly about the storytelling opportunity that the trailer had spoiled.

I live close to Plummer and Hayvenhurst, the intersection in the San Fernando Valley where John Connor thinks he escapes the T-1000 by biking into the LA River. Ol' Melty drives the semi truck over the bridge into the concrete river channel, starting the chase anew. Of course, the city has installed large round concrete flowerpot barriers to prevent this ever happening again.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:23 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, to be clear: I'm in no way arguing death is better than disability.

Yeah I'd also like to make it clear that I don't think anyone here is arguing otherwise, I'm specifically talking about to the Entertainment Weekly review. It's actually an interesting subject, since sometimes heroes with a "don't kill" rule are pretty blasé about inflicting serious harm to people, or turning a blind eye when villains die from their indirect actions.

I appreciate the fact John made the Terminator avoid openly murdering people, since many human action heroes, especially in that era, had exactly zero issue with murdering all the henchmen that got in their way. It's a good way to help the audience relate to something as unrelatable as an unstoppable killing robot.

Reading the original review I agree it doesn't seem like the reviewer is trying to make the argument that death is preferable to disability, but then again it's not really clear what they were trying to say. Basically, that there is so much destruction and chaos in the movie that you're left thinking like an uncaring machine, where the outcome is more important than any human cost. Still, the implication that "ending up in a wheelchair" isn't "a good idea" belongs in the trash no matter what the reviewer was trying to say.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2018


It's the only earned version of this scene in any movie (just barely).

What about Christine?
posted by kirkaracha at 2:31 PM on February 26, 2018


This, like Cameron's Aliens and later, The Abyss, absolutely is so MUCH better in the extended director's cut format. His sweetspot as a director seems to be 2.5+ hours, and the Hollywood Executives of the era absolutely did not trust audiences to sit in a theater for longer than 2 (and wouldn't up until he renegotiated his contract in the middle of filming Titanic to be able to finish the film the way he wanted to).

The added footage gives insight into Sarah's mindset, Dyson's motivations, and even the T-800's arc throughout the movie. In particular, the longer cuts include one of the best in-camera practical effects shots of the 90s, using a fake mirror that was really a window into a flipped duplicate set, and Linda Hamilton's twin sister to show Sarah and John performing "brain surgery" on the T-800 to pull its CPU from its skull while he talks them through the process. (Linda's twin was also used for the playground nightmare sequences.) The reason they need to yank the CPU is that in the extended cut version of the script, Arnold isn't actually a learning machine at first, Skynet sets them at the factory in a read-only mode, a restriction that must be toggled on their CPU itself.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:46 PM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yeah, 100% the director's cut is better. A bunch of things that are fine but a little weird in the second half of the movie make so much more sense even with just that one scene with the "brain surgery" -- e.g. John's comments to the T-800 about whether he was learning yet (with the car keys), his complaint about the T-800 not having learned (re: why killing Dyson is bad), etc, are explicit references to the fact that after that scene the T-800 can actually develop its understanding of the human world, which previously it could not.
posted by tocts at 7:08 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Kingsley Amis (author of Lucky Jim, The Alteration, etc etc and father of Martin Amis) called this film “an unimpeachable masterpiece”.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2018


That argument is essentially "It's better to be dead than disabled." And that is a horrendous thing to say.

One can certainly read it that way and maybe that's even the authorial intent. But I remember reading that when it ran and I always took at as a statement that John supposedly softens the Terminator's actions - possibly even thinking so himself? - but it's only an improvement by tiny degree and it writes the movie and the T-800 a pass on this really grizzly course of action. We end the movie really sad that this father figure for John has learned and grown but now must die. A father figure who seems to have put at least a hundred folks into traction and presumably left them with permanent damage, never thinking about it past the moment when he/it does it. Rather than tempering that meltdown with the "the world is better off without this heartless thing even if we like it" we just have a sad that our friend is gone.

To me that's the point of that EW bit - that we've made ourselves into accepting monstrosity rather than just accepting a huge death toll as a necessity. The kneecapping is almost a laugh-line when it first happens and then we never really see it dwelled upon. Three years earlier we had Die Hard and a scene where similar actions are taken against some police. But there we get a follow-up shot of the wounded officers laying on the ground, leaving a blood trail, and trying to pull themselves away with their arms. Does T2 ever really wrestle with this in that way?
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2018


I watched this a few months ago with my wife because we had a commission to write a short piece on "Terminator and Skynet".

She'd never seen it before but broadly knew about Terminator.
I briefly explained the plot of The Terminator, and we then watched this one.

When it came out it was pretty much common knowledge that Schwarzenegger was the good guy, so there wasn't much of a reveal when I saw it, but I really really enjoyed her confusion at it.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:06 AM on February 28, 2018


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