The second (and FINAL!) Terminator film is another one of those sequels that’s better than it has any right to be. The scenario of the first film is pretty self-contained: woman runs from killer robot and survives. Sending another killer robot risks repeating the whole thing. Doing it with a huge budget and new special effects techniques threatens to bog the film down in mindless spectacle. Part of the charm of the first Terminator is that it’s a small budget, extended chase. It’s taut and intimate like a good horror flick. T2 threatens to be bloated and unnecessary, but, instead, Cameron manages to build on the mythology he created in the first movie.
John Connor is now a young, troubled teenager. In the future, Skynet decides to make a second attempt at destroying him with a more advanced Terminator – the liquid metal T1000 (Robert Patrick). This time, future Connor sends back a reprogrammed Terminator to protect him (Schwarzenegger). You could cynically see this as future politician Schwarzenegger redeeming his most villainous role, but the character’s conversion does make for some fun moments, especially in his interactions with Connor. The T1000 exists mainly to provide cgi shots; at the time they were so revolutionary, and thus so expensive, that this film infamously destroyed Orion Studios financially. In less than a decade, people could do the same thing on home pcs.
However, the film’s real genius comes through the journey that it takes Sarah Connor on (Linda Hamilton reprises her role). The directionless waitress of the first film has become dedicated to training her son for the apocalypse. She’s tough, well-trained, and ruthless, but she also spends most of her time contemplating fate. She knows that the world will explode in a few years, and she’ll do anything to prepare for it…or maybe stop it. I think Connor might be Cameron’s greatest achievement as a filmmaker. Sure, he’s made a few billion dollar films and revolutionized special effects filmmaking two or three times, but Connor is the kind of vivid and complicated, tough female character that I’d really like to see a lot more of.
If I had a complaint, it might be about the film’s casual violence. There are actually jokes made about assaulting and shooting innocent people (e.g., “He’ll live.”) It actually doesn’t bother me all that much, though I do have the nagging feeling that it should.
So, the effects were great, and they still look good, even if they should not have cost quite so much. There are several fantastic action set-pieces, interesting characters, and a further exploration of time travel/destiny. I’m solidly in the camp that this is a far better film than its predecessor, although I know a lot of people who are in the other camp.
And they never made anything else in the Terminator franchise….