Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991
Terminator 2: Judgement Day stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, and Linda Hamilton and was directed by James Cameron. Set eleven years after the events of the first film, it tells the story of a young John Connor, played by Edward Furlong, as he attempts to survive a terminator assassination and prevent the catastrophic prophesized judgement day. It’s not every day that a sequel surpasses its predecessor. But Terminator 2 does exactly that in just about every regard.
It’s a much bigger movie the story’s bigger, the budget’s bigger, the action’s bigger. It takes the elaborate time-travel premise of the first film and runs with it, crafting a complex, yet fully understandable story. It expands on concepts established in the original movie, but also presents things in new and unexpected ways, all while keeping its characters moving from one giant action set piece to the next. That action is arguably the biggest difference between T2 and T1.
The first Terminator movie did have some decent action, but it was all fairly small-scale with the exception of the explosion near the end. It was almost entirely shot in dimly-lit locations and just had a smaller scope to it. Terminator 2 is hugely expansive with its action, largely thanks to its 1500% budget increase over the first movie. Much like the first Terminator, T2’s basically a big chase movie only this time there’s not that much running. Instead, we’ve got car chases, truck chases, helicopter chases, and multiple motorcycle chases the first of which probably being my favorite sequence in the movie.
It’s not all chases though. Like any good 90s action blockbuster, there’s an inordinate amount of explosions and more shootouts than most 80s action franchise combined. Even though eleven years had passed in the Terminator world, it had only been seven years since the release of the first film, but the advancement of the special effects in that short time period is really impressive. Some of the CGI is a little rudimentary to look at nowadays, but there are multiple CGI-heavy scenes involving the T-1000 that I think still hold up really well, even today. T2 definitely prioritizes big action over the smaller-scale horror elements of T1, but there are still some effective and creepy moments here too.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the T-800 or Model 101 Terminator, but this movie deviates from its predecessor by turning him into a protector rather than a straight-up terminator. And that change really makes a huge difference for this character. He still has the traits that we loved about him in T1; his unstoppable determination to complete the mission, his physicality and abilities, his very literal matter-of-fact tone that results in a bit of humor. But he also has, ironically, humanity in this one. Thanks to John Connor (both future and present), he’s not just a killing machine and in fact has the capacity for learning.
This opens things up to a lot of humor (not to mention a dynamic new concept to the story), sparking more philosophical questions about what makes something human. Of course I have to talk about John Connor, given his immense importance not only to this film, but to the Terminator franchise as a whole. I’m somebody who gets easily irritated by child actors in non-kid movies, but Edward Furlong gives a stellar performance here. And the character is crafted in such an interesting way. Thanks to Sarah Connor, he not only knows about the events of the first film, but he’s also highly trained in things that no other kid would be able to do.
This allows for a very fast-paced movie with minimal exposition. When John first encounters the Terminators, he quickly figures things out on his own without some big shock and explanation scene. Similarly, when the action ramps up, he’s right in it with Sarah and the T-800. He can ride that motorcycle, he can reload the weapons on the fly.
Things that would seem like a big stretch for a young character in any other movie make perfect sense here. As big and expansive as this movie gets with its action and sets, it’s ten times bigger and more interesting when you take the time travel element into account. This franchise is very much predicated on the idea of fate and how events of the past can shape the future. And this movie, in particular, really plays that up. We find out that events of the first film have a direct impact on the future and the rise of Skynet.
This is something that’s hinted at in the first movie, but if it wasn’t for the Terminator and Reese’s trip to 1984, the dystopian future that they’re trying to prevent would have never happened in the first place. On top of that, you’ve got John Connor’s knowledge of his future, which adds this interesting mind and fate-bending element to the story. Despite its time-travel induced complexity, T2 manages to tie the whole story together in a way that makes sense and provided true closure to the franchise until they decided to continue it twelve years later. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one has gotta be the action.
This takes the pulse-pounding sequences of the first film and cranks them up to eleven. It’s got everything you want and expects in a 90s action blockbuster. Car chases, motorcycle chases, absurd shootouts, absurd shootouts during motorcycle chases. Just about anything that can be blown up is blown up and it’s all done in a spectacular practical fashion. Then you throw in the T-1000’s CGI effects and fireball models and you’ve got one out of control action fest.
The horror elements of the first film are lost, but in exchange, we have a huge action blockbuster that set the bar for movies to come. The second pro is the relationship between the T-800 and John Connor. After fearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator for the whole last movie, it’s an odd shift to suddenly like him here, but this movie has no trouble getting us to do so.
There was always the inherent humor with the character, but adding the protector friendship element allows for further expansion of the character as well as the film’s themes. Despite being a machine, the Terminator learns humanity from John and in turn, John learns what it’s like to have a father figure. Pro number three has gotta be how this movie ties the whole story together. Time travel is something that can add a lot of complexity to a story. It’s a cool premise but makes it easy for a movie to fall victim to plot holes and inconsistencies.
Terminator 2 somehow manages to take the time travel stuff and mold it into a logical plotline that encompasses both Terminator films. The events of the first film not only have an impact on this movie, but also on the future and so these cascading repercussions need to be accounted for in order for any of it to make sense and this movie manages to do so in a satisfying way. As far as cons go, my only real issue is Sarah Connor’s voice-over narration.
It’s a minor con for sure, but definitely still one that bothers me. I don’t really like the voice-over anywhere in the movie, but I can tolerate the opening exposition monologue cause it recaps the first movie and sets the stage for this one. But a little after the halfway point right through to the end, we get fairly frequent narration from Sarah that’s not only lacking in energy, but also feels extremely unnecessary. I’m gonna give Terminator 2: Judgement Day 4 out of 5 paws. It takes just about everything about the first movie, cranks it up, and then runs with it to create an exciting, funny, and compelling story about preventing the destruction of humanity. I would recommend Terminator 2: Judgement Day to anybody who likes action movies.
This is really one of the quintessential 90s blockbusters and still holds up today, both in terms of action and story. If you liked the first Terminator movie, there’s a really good chance you’ll like this one too, even with the tonal shift. T2 is definitely watchable without having seen T1, but you’ll get the most out of it with knowledge of that first movie. If you liked Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the obvious recommendation would be The Terminator. You’d think most people would watch a franchise in order, but I’ve actually known a lot of people who’ve seen T2 without ever watching the first one.
It’s a bit darker-toned and smaller in scale, but it’s a good one and will fill in a lot of plot gaps you may have. If you liked the action here and just want another 90s movie with plenty of explosions, you should check out Independence Day for another type of judgement day movie. And if you like the relationship between John Connor and the T-800, you might want to watch The Iron Giant for another story about the mutual benefits of a kid-robot friendship. Alright, a couple questions for you guys.
Number one: Have you seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s a sequel that you think surpasses its predecessor? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.