Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Review

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
No problemos here

Oh dear, I've hit the mother load with this one. Now I have another reason to be positive about Terminator Salvation (it better live up)...it allows me to go back and review not just the past three Terminators, but also review one of those past entries that happens to be my FAVORITE MOVIE OF ALL-TIME. What, you thought I was talking about Terminator 3? Definitely not, I'm talking about Terminator 2 dickwad. Now allow me to explain myself as to why it is my favorite movie.

Plot Synopsis: Since the events of The Terminator, John Connor has been born into a life of constant change and unreasonable expectations. His mother, Sarah, explained to him that in the future he will lead the human resistance and save humanity from Skynet, the machine system that became self-aware on Judgment Day. But when Sarah was incarcerated in a mental hospital for trying to blow up a computer factory owned by Cyberdyne, the company that will soon create Skynet and unwillingly bring about the apocalypse, John lost his faith in her and is now living with foster parents. But as Judgment Day draws closer, John will soon come into contact with two men from the future (sound familiar?). One of them is the T-1000, an advanced terminator that is completely made of a liquid metal alloy, who is sent to find and kill John. The other is the T-800, the same model (not the same unit!) terminator that was sent to kill Sarah, who was captured and reprogrammed by the resistance to protect John from harm. But can the T-800 protect John when his technology is old and vastly inferior to that of the T-1000's?


Where to start? Lets get the obvious out of the way first…the incredible action scenes. James Cameron’s style of action directing was great in his previous films, but Terminator 2 took that style and honed it down into a tight and crisp array of intense visuals. The chase through the Los Angeles sewers is arguably the crown jewel of his entire career. But rather than just shoot the action as it is, Cameron puts in little touches that feel unique, such as the way Arnold flip-cocks the shotgun during the sewer chase, Sarah’s one-armed pump during the ending, and the T-1000’s malfunctions near the end. Cameron also knows that great action isn’t just gunfire and explosions, but also suspenseful. Before any really action occurs in the film, the plot continuously builds up the tension and suspense until John, the T-800, and the T-1000 eventually converge on each other in a moment of heart-stopping intensity. What is interesting about this build up is that, had the previews not ruined it, we would not have known that the T-800 was supposed to be John’s protector until he yells, “Get down!”

But because of the damn previews, we already know that the real villain is the T-1000, chillingly played by Robert Patrick. Patrick doesn’t have the physicality and imposing stature of Arnold in the first film, but his lean and lethal features match the T-1000’s stealthy nature to great effect. Now you would think that after almost two decades of more advanced technology, the CGI effects used for the T-1000 would appear dated and old-fashioned; but you would be mistaken. The reason the effects hold up though aren’t because of the effects themselves, but because of the character being portrayed by them. Because the T-1000 is made of shiny liquid metal, the effects don’t appear primitive because of the characters simple, but effective design.

Another thing that makes Terminator 2 standout is the surprising amount depth of its characters. Each of the movies relationships, John-Sarah, John-T-800, and Sarah-T-800, are believably drawn out and naturally advance over the course of the runtime. John’s estranged relationship with Sarah is understandable, given how everything she told him was thought to be complete bullshit when she was sent to Pescadero. Because of the lack of a father figure in his life, John looks up to the terminator as the only true one he has ever had, to the dismay of Sarah who questions his allegiance because of the similarity he has to the T-800 that tried to kill her. Each of the actors pulls off their respective characters successfully, but Linda Hamilton comes out as the best. Seeing Sarah as such a toughened warrior is quite a jarring change (in a good way) from the meek Sarah in the first film. But this Sarah isn’t all brawn though, as Hamilton does show that she does have weaknesses too.

Edward Furlong, even though I still think he gives an overall good performance, is the only real weak link in the movie. His voice noticeably changes (from Furlong’s puberty) back and forth occasionally, and some of his line readings come off as somewhat whiny. Still, he’s not a complete washout, just a sometimes uneven actor. I know I could get a lot of flak for this, but I actually think that Arnold’s “nicer” T-800 is a better character than the villainous T-800. Hey, sue me just because I think he is more interesting to watch here. Over the course of the movie, as he and John spend more time together, John tries to teach him some human traits such as smiling, giving a thumbs up, and saying a few catchphrases. It’s quite humorous to watch the T-800 learn these things (the smile bit had me in stitches), but these comedic moments don’t feel forced like in the third film (which went overboard on the comedy).


This brings me to the true reason why I think the movie goes above and beyond and becomes my all-time favorite…the themes of human nature. As I stated before, John teaches the terminator to become more human-like and express their traits. The scene where the two talk about why humans cry is very touching, and increases the emotional impact when the ending arrives. To counter-balance this, Sarah becomes more hardened and machine-like as time goes on, until she finally snaps after having an apocalyptic dream (which needs to be seen to be believed). SPOILER She then goes to seek out and murder Miles Dyson, an employee at Cyberdyne working on a project that will eventually become Skynet. But when it comes to the moment of truth where Sarah must pull the trigger, she can not bring herself to do this END SPOILER. As John points out to the terminator, “You can’t just go around killing people”. And then later he says, “we have feelings, we hurt, we’re afraid.” Sarah’s breakdown is easily one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

Another aspect of the movie that is impressive is Brad Fidel’s score and music themes. By taking the theme from the first film and expanding on it with a much more metallic and slick tone, Fidel created the definitive music sound for all Terminator movies. Also, the movie is thankfully free from the dated (but still intense) 80’s techno score from the first film. So are you tired of my ranting about why Terminator 2 is so great yet? Well if you are, then I’m sorry but the only thing I can say after this review is to go out to your local video store and rent the damn movie. Better yet, go out and buy it. Now. “Hasta la vista, baby.”


Special Edition
The theatrical cut, as great as it is, is not the best cut of the film. It is still deserving of my highest rating, but the special edition is just so much better in terms of content, depth, and story flow. There is a couple more moments of suspense build up (like when Sarah goes to Dyson’s house) and character development that fleshes out the movie and its themes to the fullest. Sarah now has another dream where she sees Kyle Reese that then leads to the beginning of her Judgment Day dream, and her treatment at Pescadero is now seen more clearly. John and the terminator also have a few more bonding moments, like the aforementioned smile scene. One of the more interesting additions is the T-1000’s malfunctioning during the climax at the steel mill, which better explains how John separates the two Sarahs from one another. The greatest addition though, is a surgery scene where John and Sarah attempt to rewire the terminator so he can learn. This scene not only increases the tensions between John and Sarah over the terminator’s motives, but also better explains how John can teach him human traits. The Terminator 2 special edition is not only the better of the two, but also the one that earns the distinction of being my favorite movie of all-time.


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