Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton
Plot: When another Terminator, twice as deadly as the first, is sent after a teenage John Connor, help arrives in the most unlikely of places.
Sequels that top the original are a hard thing to come by. Not that I am criticising Cameron’s decision to remake his classic robot assassin film. If anything else, Judgement Day acts as the same movie again, but with updated special effects and a bigger budget. While the effects are dated once again these days, the bigger budget is definitely appreciated. The explosions are tripled, the carnage is endless and Judgement Day just grabs you and refuses to let go.
Of course, it helps that narratively Judgement Day is incredible. It starts off fairly straight-forward with the same assassin from the future plot, but with a few twists shaking up proceedings. The main change is that rather than a human being sent from the future to save John and Sarah Connor, this time our hero is actually the first Terminator, reprogrammed for good. This is a pretty genius move on Cameron’s part. Sure, we sacrifice the horror aspect of the franchise, as we are only treated to a few scenes of a helpless victim running from an unstoppable killer. However, Terminator formula was cemented here the first time you see two robots fighting each other. The fight choreography is amazing, as Arnie and Robert Patrick take each other on in a full-throttle, destructive way. The fights are carefully scripted, so it is clear that each fighter feels no pain, more concerned with getting the next punch in, rather than shielding themselves from the pain. Cue Robert Patrick getting slammed through a wall, while loading his gun. It makes each battle inventive and up there with the very best of action movies. The other upside to having a good Terminator is that Arnold Schwarzenegger gets far more to do here. Cameron feels more confident with his leading man this time around, realising that his thick accent is actually helping the movies rather than getting in the way. Therefore, the script allows Arnie to flex not only his physical muscles, but his acting ones too. This is the best we have ever seen the actor, as he coolly delivers the perfect gag. The serious stuff is also spot-on. The ending scene is made a cult classic, because of Arnie’s deadpan delivery, but at the same time, there is so much heart in his words. As Sarah Connor narrates, in many ways, the Terminator was the perfect father figure for John Connor, obedient, protective and always there for him. In a movie about humanity, the irony is in Schwarzenegger’s Terminator being the most human.
But Terminator 2’s success isn’t just from the fun factor. Cameron extends the movie universe and sets the franchise on a cinematic journey that makes it such a thriving story. If you stripped away this side of the film, then the Terminators would be little more than glorified B Movies. A mindless action about robots mercilessly beating the living shit out of each other. However, because there is actually a really gripping narrative, including the footnote that we, as people, are too reliant on machines, the Terminator movies become food for thought, rather than just another entertaining blockbuster. Sure, perhaps as the movie hits its second act, it slows right down and it stops it from becoming a film you can just sink into. Also, the end of humanity does make a rather gloomy atmosphere. However, it shows intelligence. Cameron didn’t want to just make another Terminator movie, he wanted to explore the world of these machines. He debates time travel, parallel universes and what makes someone human. Perhaps Sarah Connor’s character arc best proves this, as the bright, cheerful young woman from the first film is almost unrecognisable, as the hardened warrior. Moments see her almost become the robot, as she takes a bullet to the leg and shrugs it off to get back into the fight. It accumulates into a heart-breaking scene, where she realises she can end the apocalypse, by assassinating the guy who accidentally built a supercomputer, but it comes at the price of realising that she has essentially become a human terminator. It is powerful stuff and proves that an action can be more than explosions, guns and saying ‘Hasta La Vista, baby’ in an Austrian accent. Although, that stuff is golden too.
Final Verdict: Cameron brings the Terminator back with a bigger budget, more confidence and a wider universe. One of the greatest action movies out there and Arnie’s very best.