Joyce Glasser reviews Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D (September 1, 2017) Cert. 15, 136 min.
In a line that is now part of international cinema’s DNA, back in 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator warned us, ‘I’ll be back.’ And now, a quarter of a century later, he is. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), co-written and directed by James Cameron, will be back in AMC cinemas in a brand new 4K 3D print and it looks terrific. Arguably the first sequel to be better than the original and arguably the greatest Sci-Fi film of all time, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ has so much going for it that that the 3D enhancement seems superfluous.
In the opening narration heroine Sarah Connor (a super fit Linda Hamilton, who went on to marry the director in a short lived marriage) provides the context we need if you’ve forgotten (or even if you’ve never seen) the original.
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines. The computer which controlled the machines, Skynet, sent two Terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the human resistance, John Connor, my son. The first Terminator was programmed to strike at me in the year 1984, before John was born. It failed. The second was set to strike at John himself when he was still a child. As before, the resistance was able to send a lone warrior, a protector for John. It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first.”
As we learn in this sequel, in 1995, the advanced shapeshifting T-1000 (chillingly played by the handsome Robert Patrick) is sent back in time to kill ten-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong) to prevent him from becoming the leader of the human resistance. Sarah, who had been his been preparing him, is now in a psychiatric hospital and John, a bit of a trouble maker, lives with foster parents. Schwarzenegger plays the less advanced Terminator model that is sent back in time to protect John.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the first films to boast a truly mind bending time travel premise; the kind that Christopher Nolan played with in Memento, Inception and Interstellar. Cameron humorously acknowledges the challenge of getting your head around the time travel in this early scene:
The Terminator: My mission is to protect you.
John Connor: Yeah? Who sent you?
The Terminator: You did. Thirty-five years from now, you reprogrammed me to be your protector here, in this time.
John Connor: This is deep…
The difference is that Cameron, who directed the ultra-romantic Titanic, injects just enough romance and humanity in his dystopian world to appeal to a wider audience than Sci-Fi geeks. There is a great chivalric undercurrent in the scene where the Terminator races to the mental hospital to find Sarah before T-1000 does. While Sarah is a trained fighter, she does not know if this killer machine is friend or foe. The camera is with Sarah, who is cowering on the floor looking up at the Terminator’s imposing stature towering above her. Suddenly he reaches out his arm telling her: ‘Come with me if you want to live.’ He’s not one to mince words.
This thread of humanity is also evident from a brief scene early on when the Terminator sees John Connor shed a tear and asks him what’s wrong with his eyes. John tries to explain why people cry, but the Terminator does not comprehend. At the very end we have a scene which is guaranteed to bring a tear to all humans in the audience, while ensuring that the machine man remains in character:
The Terminator: I know now why you cry. [wipes a tear from John’s face]. But it’s something that I can never do.
And this is the brilliance of Terminator 2: Judgment Day as opposed to the recent War for the Planet of the Apes. The Apes have become so human that you begin to realize it is just a well-directed Western with the good guys in furry costumes. The Terminator never steps out of character. What he learns about life on earth, humans teach him, and no one can forget that scene when John gives a lesson in how human’s talk.
“You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative,” or some shit like that. You say “no problemo.” …And if you want to shine them on it’s “hasta la vista, baby.” And when The Terminator does use that term, it’s to shine T-1000.
But it is not just the cool dialogue by Cameron and William Wisher (Eraser, Abyss) that contributed to the film’s gross box office take of $519 million way back in 1991. The awesome special effects have hardly dated (remember T-1000, emerging through the hospital floor?) and the acting remains pitch perfect.
If Schwarzenegger went on to great things in the film world and in his political career, sadly, the same was not the case for Hamilton (who is superb here). But the real tragedy is the career of the talented young actor Edward Furlong who is always convincing and holds his own with Arnie.
In Terminator 3, John Connor has the line: ‘The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves’. Sadly, the 13-year-old Furlong did not make much of himself, although adults have to share the blame when he apparently shacked up with his 26-year-old manager shortly after the film was released. After a series of arrests for drunken disorder, domestic violence, failure to pay child maintenance and drug abuse, he is now reportedly uninsurable in films. It seems the boy who played John Connor was also in need of protector.
You can watch the film trailer here: