Saturday 29 March 2014

Movie Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

A science fiction masterpiece, Terminator 2: Judgment Day finds star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron at their peak, combining astounding action with visionary special effects and a compelling story.

It's 10 years after a T-800 terminator robot was sent from the future by the Skynet computer network machines to try and assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to prevent her from giving birth to future human rebel leader John Connor. Sarah is now incarcerated in a mental institution after trying to blow up a computer factory. John (Edward Furlong) is 10 years old, a troubled but resourceful boy living with foster parents.

T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a deadlier, more advanced terminator unit with a liquid metal core is sent by Skynet to try and kill John. In response, the humans send a T-800 unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to protect him. As John and T-800 escape from T-1000 and rush to reconnect with Sarah, she is troubled by nightmares of the Skynet-initiated nuclear apocalypse to come, and is busy trying to escape from the mental hospital. Once John, Sarah and T-800 join forces, they arm themselves for the fight to come, and Sarah insists on trying to alter the future by eliminating Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the computer scientist unknowingly creating the genesis of Skynet.

A sequel that matched and bettered an already terrific original, Terminator 2 ushered in a new era of computer generated special effects. The shape-shifting, self-repairing molecular liquid metal capabilities of the T-1000 are presented in some eye-popping segments, totalling no more than five minutes of screen time but forever changing the science of what is possible in creative movie making. And the effects are only used to serve the story: as Cameron gradually reveals the capabilities of a killer robot engineered out of liquid metal, the indestructibility of the T-1000, as played with lethal iciness by Robert Patrick, looms large over the film, creating a terrifying new and seemingly unstoppable villain.

Every monster needs a hero to battle, and Schwarzenegger steps up to the highest level of action hero superstardom in bringing back the comparatively more rudimentary T-800, this time as a saviour rather than a terminator. Arnold as a robot was always a good match, but here star and character are both ironically humanized by a powerful father-son bond that develops between T-800 and the young John Connor. Cameron was obviously recreating the hugely successful mother-daughter experience between Ripley and Newt from Aliens, and he gets it right again. The T-800 does the heavy lifting in terms of protecting John and Sarah, but John does all the teaching and mentoring, transforming the robot into a humane presence and giving the movie its humorous bite.

The script, written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr., achieves an impeccable balance between stunning action and character development. The pace is unrelenting, but there are a surprising number of scenes where Sarah, John and T-800 advance the story through personal growth. Sarah has to confront her justifiable rage, John has to grow from child to future leader, Sarah has to let him achieve that growth, and T-800 has to remain true to his orders and his master while learning about some uniquely human attributes.

All this takes place against a backdrop of T-1000 incessantly hunting John down, and Sarah insisting on hunting down Dyson to re-write human destiny. The chase scenes and stunts are plentiful and simply breathtaking, edited with grace to maintain clarity amidst brilliant mayhem. And when the machine guns, Gatling guns and grenade launchers come into play, which is often, Cameron does not spare any bullets or explosions.

Linda Hamilton transforms Sarah Connor from the innocent victim of the original film to a lean, angry and muscular fighting machine, Cameron again inspired by Aliens to place a strong and kick-ass woman near the centre of an action movie. Edward Furlong, making a dream debut and all of twelve at the time of filming, gives a touching performance as the young and scrappy John Connor, quickly getting to grips with his destiny after realizing that the wild stories of his mother were true after all. Unfortunately, Furlong's promising career was subsequently derailed by substance abuse.

Packed with memorable characters, tremendous action, visionary creativity, and many enduring little moments of humour and humanity, this is the perfect action-oriented science fiction film. After a rollicking climax, Terminator 2 proceeds to find an elegant ending, as good things come to an end to prevent worse things from coming to mad fruition.

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