Terminator Retrospective Part 2

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Sarah Connor who was a hapless waitress is gone. Instead she has been replaced by a sensationally muscular, lean, chain-smoking Connor who is doing pull-ups in her sanitarium cell. Hamilton’s transition from the 1984 picture to this follow-up is chameleonic. She is no longer tethered to humanity. She is exfoliated down to survival instincts. This is a tour-de-force performance of a psyche snapped beyond the brink.

Brad Fiedel’s score was appropriately minimalist in the original but now it is a goosebump-raising opus. As he demonstrated in Aliens, James Cameron is faultlessly industrious at increasing the set pieces and the stakes of a franchise without sacrificing the core essence. He also upends expectations when Arnold materializes through the wormhole. The audience was accustomed to Arnold as the malevolent Terminator but when he isn’t casually dispatching bystanders in a biker bar, we are aghast at his relative restraint.

Same goes for Robert Patrick’s masquerade as a spindly-thin police officer. He doesn’t decimate people en masse. He stealthily probes John’s foster parents for his whereabouts and with the uniform, he can generate the face value of law-abiding respectability. We were told by Kyle Reese that Terminators are infiltration units and what better way to garner trust and infiltrate the ranks than a law enforcement. Edward Furlong is mostly a shrill brat but he isn’t supposed to the messiah yet. In other words, he is an adequate child-in-peril but the de facto star is now Schwarzenegger.

Before people accused Jonathan Mostow of spoofing the franchise with rimshot humor, they should adjudicate Cameron justly when he has Arnold saunter out of the tavern to the tune of “Bad to the Bone” and snatches the owner’s sunglasses. A notch above the male strip club scene in Terminator 3 but it’s still somewhat fatuous nonetheless.

I love the ouroboros nature of the mythology. The remnants of the Terminator arm subsequently catalyze the beginning of Cyberdyne’s development into the program. It’s a loop-de-loop within itself and it tingles the cerebral cortex with possibilities of cause-vs.-effect paradoxes. The confrontation at the mall between the T-1000 and Arnold’s T-101 is still a high-octane, pulse-pounding clash of brute strength with each combatant hurling themselves through concrete walls and glass windows.

Definitely a close call but I think, after a gestation period, I mildly prefer Terminator 1 over 2 for its alarming immediacy but you cannot deny that this 1991 effort is one of the most superlative action sequels. It’s a gargantuan, crackling entertainment and it successfully showed the capabilities of ILM’s visual effects department with the liquid metal that is still pretty unrivaled.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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