*****TERMINAL SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
Way back in late fall of 1984, I remember my sister coming home to tell us about a movie she just saw called “The Terminator” (1984). The title didn’t impress me at all, because it sounded like a million other cheapie action-exploitation movies on shelves of video stores at that time. I turned my pretentious teenaged nose up to it until it came to CED videodisc (my family’s format of choice–VHS was too expensive at the time) and we gave it a watch. Even on an old, low-res 25″ TV, it was clear this movie was something different. “The Terminator” was cowritten, coproduced and directed by an as-yet unknown filmmaker named James Cameron, and starred Linda Hamilton (had no idea who she was), Michael Biehn (ditto) and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I only knew from the “Conan” movies (which I never saw; not my thing). Schwarzenegger starred as the titular villain—a role he seemed born, no, built to play. The bodybuilder/actor’s few lines, delivered robotically in his thick Austrian accent, only added to his cyborg character seeming ‘foreign’ to 1980s Los Angeles. With expert camerawork, solid storytelling and acting far beyond its low-budget means, it was clear “The Terminator” was not going to be drive-in movie schlock.
Note: James Cameron’s star, Linda Hamilton, would be his future wife after his divorce from longtime producing partner Gale Anne Hurd (who also coproduced T1 and T2, as well as “The Abyss,” “ALIENS,” etc). Cameron is currently married to Suzy Amis, one of the costars of his Best Picture winner, “Titanic.” Call me crazy, but I sense a pattern here…
I remember a lawsuit the film incurred from the late writer Harlan Ellison, who maintained the movie ripped off his “Outer Limits” TV scripts for “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.” In fairness, there are superficial similarities, but only in trappings, not actual characters or content. The suit was settled, and the infamously litigious Ellison got a credit in the home video version. The accusation of plagiarism didn’t hurt my fascination with this deeply thrilling movie. Despite its sci-fi trappings of time travel and cyborgs, the movie feels more horror in its execution, with its heroes always trying to outrun their cybernetic grim reaper. Cameron admitted the idea came to him in a fever dream while sleeping on a friend’s couch, and it shows. While the film ended with its own timeline locked in a loop of causality, a sequel somehow seemed inevitable—like Judgment Day itself. It would take seven years, but this time I was determined to see the sequel on a big screen, and I did… many times, in fact. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” became the background movie of my 20s (a foolhardier time of my life where I rode motorcycles and was a bit of an adrenaline junkie). I bought T2 on laserdisc (the DVDs before DVD) and watched it more times than I could remember. Like future John Connor’s message to his mother, I pretty much had the movie memorized. After I got married in my early 30s, my wife and I bought the ‘ultimate edition’ on DVD, and I watched Cameron’s extended cuts (there are three versions of T2 on the DVD, one is unlocked by an Easter egg). Over the last two decades, the older, more sedate me stopped watching as much. Like the TV series “Seinfeld” (which I also loved in my 20s), T2 seemed to speak more to an earlier phase of my life than it did to my middle-aged present.
For this commemorative anniversary column, it was time to break out T2 once again and give it the large screen, home digital projector treatment. For this column, I viewed the original theatrical length version, the one I first fell in love with (I will get into the additional Special Edition scenes afterward). Three decades later, “T2: Judgment Day” was ripe for reevaluation…
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991).
The movie opens abruptly with a sunny snapshot image of early 1990s Los Angeles. That image abruptly cuts to a post-apocalypse nuclear winter of 2029. We hear the voice of a world-weary Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) telling us about “Judgment Day,” when a sentient computer system called Skynet declared war on the human race, effectively wiping out nearly half of us on August 29th, 1997.
Note: Of course, in 1991 the movie’s dreaded ‘judgment day’ was still six years away. Since that date is now 24 years ago, the movie can be seen as an alternate history sci-fi, like the current “Man in the High Castle” or “For All Mankind.” “Judgment Day” can now be seen as possible future that (thankfully) never played out…or has merely been postponed, as “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) implied.
We see robotic foot soldiers, skinless, skeletal versions of the Terminators from the first movie firing plasma weapons into a post-nuclear playground battlefield littered with human skulls. It’s an extermination. We then see a heavily scarred, middle-aged John Connor (Michael Edwards) surveying the battlefield. Through Sarah’s voiceover, we learn that he is about to send a ‘protector’ back through time to save his younger self from another time-traveling Skynet menace, much like the failed T-800 that was sent back in time to kill his mother in 1984. Even in this prologue, it’s instantly established that a race is on.
Note: James Cameron uses many of the same techniques he used to depict the post-apocalypse of 2029 in “The Terminator” (1984), including a combination of miniatures, front-projection and rotoscoped plasma energy fire. While the techniques are more or less the same, there is clearly a lot more money used in T2’s battle sequences; kind of inevitable when the production budget gets scaled up from $6 million to $100 million. At the time, T2 made film history as the most expensive movie to ever get the green light.
After the credits play (over images of nuclear hellfire) we abruptly cut to 1995 Los Angeles, outside of a seedy redneck bar on the outskirts of the city. There is a gathering of lightning in the parking lot as a ball of energy coalesces near a large truck. In a flash (forgive the pun), a nude cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is deposited into a still glowing crater created by spacetime displacement. This is a Terminator of the same make/model as its 1984 predecessor. The cyborg conducts an infrared surveillance of the parking lot, as it scans the collection of trucks, cars and motorcycles for a probable vehicle to suit its needs. The Terminator then steps into the bar, buck naked…
Note: Still a bit odd to see my state’s former governor walk into a redneck bar without any clothes (!). While I wasn’t a fan of Schwarzenegger’s role as California’s ‘governator,’ it’s still enjoyable to see him doing what he does best in this film—playing the human version of a monster truck.
The au natural Terminator immediately scans the locals for a clothing match in order to blend in. Of course, the strapping cyborg has already caught the attention of the colorful locals, including a few admiring glances from the servers. One of the denizens appears to be the same size as the Terminator, and he makes a one-time offer: “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.” The biker laughs in his stern face, putting his cigar out on the Terminator’s broad chest. Unfazed, the Terminator grabs his hand and crushes it like a paper cup. Soon a bar brawl breaks out as other locals rush to the biker’s defense, only to be pinned to a pool table with a knife or tossed out of a shattered window. Following the biker into the kitchen, the Terminator gets the man’s leather duds as well as the keys to his Harley Davidson Fatboy. As he is about to exit, he’s met by the shotgun-wielding owner of the bar, whom he swiftly disarms—like a cobra striking a hesitant victim. The Terminator even takes the man’s sunglasses, because why not?
Note: This scene, while as violent as grisly as any from the first movie, injects a bit more humor into the mayhem by playing George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” when the fully-dressed Terminator steps out of the bar right after the kitchen fight. The Terminator’s theft of the bar owner’s shotgun and sunglasses are the last laughs of this gallows’ humor scene. The redneck bar sequence effectively plays up the tropes from the first film, but for campy laughs rather than horror. It’s interesting that Schwarzenegger’s ‘good guy’ Terminator mutilates but never kills any of the bikers—yet this is before he ‘swears’ to John Connor that we “won’t kill anyone.”
Elsewhere in the city, another nocturnal ‘electrical disturbance’ is being checked out by a young LAPD cop who is also met a nude time traveler from the future (Robert Patrick), who is of a much slighter build than the beefy Schwarzenegger cyborg. Moving with predatory swiftness and feline grace, the new cyborg stabs the cop with an unseen weapon (a part of himself, actually) and we then cut to a shot of him ‘wearing’ an LAPD uniform and entering the cop’s police cruiser. Once inside, this “T-1000” cyborg touches the cruiser’s mobile computer and instantly looks up the location of young John Connor, the son of Sarah and future leader of the resistance. The T-1000 locates the address of Connor’s current foster parents, the Voights. John’s biological mother, Sarah Connor, is currently in custody at the state mental hospital in Pascadero.
Note: The movie was released just four months after the leaked taping of the Rodney King beating by several LAPD officers in March of 1991 was broadcast to a stunned world (this was decades before phone cameras would capture many other such occurrences). The image of a clean-cut, uniformed, white police officer as the ruthless villain was far more ominous after the release of the King tape than it might’ve been otherwise. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 is a very underrated performance. At the risk of offending Arnold fans, Patrick is, for my money, the best actor to ever play a Terminator. Schwarzenegger may be the playing the ‘monster truck,’ but Patrick is playing the swifter, more agile Lamborghini. Sometimes less truly is more.
The next morning, we meet young John Connor (Edward Furlong) and his friend Tim (Danny Cooksey), as they tinker with Connor’s dirt bike in the garage of the Voight’s home. Stepmother Janelle (Jeanette Goldstein of “ALIENS”) tries to get John to clean his room, and urges her useless husband Todd (Xander Berkeley of “Gattaca”) to help her out. Neither parent are successful at disciplining the rebellious Connor, who takes off with Tim on his dirt bike. The two zip off for a day spent hacking into ATMs and spending money at the local mall in Reseda (an L.A. suburb). The film then cuts between the ‘chase’ between the two Terminators—one on a motorcycle, the other in a police cruiser—as they each try to track down John Connor.
Notes: A few things. First of all, John’s age isn’t quite right. The boy’s DOB in the police car computer is listed as February 28th, 1985. T2 is set in 1995, 10 years after the events of T1. John looks to be about 12 or 13 years old (at least), but there’s no way in hell he’s 10. He’d be a grade schooler.
Secondly, in 1992, California passed a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists (a law that saved my own life two years later), so it’s very unlikely that John, Tim and even the Terminator would be zipping around on motorcycles in broad daylight without at least one cop pulling them over.
Finally, actor Edward Furlong, despite his well-documented issues later on with substance abuse and spousal battery, gives an absolutely amazing performance as John Connor. Furlong had never acted before; T2 was his first film. Edward Furlong gives arguably the best adolescent performance since Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”
We then see how John’s mother, Sarah Connor, is doing at the fictional Pescadero State Mental Hospital. Sarah has been in custody after being found both guilty and legally insane for her role in trying to blow up the Cyberdyne computer laboratory in an offscreen terrorist incident that took place between T1 and T2. At a hearing to determine if she’s fit to be transferred to minimum security, Sarah is forced to watch as her psychiatrist, Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen) plays videotape of her discussing her nightmares of “Judgment Day”; a nuclear holocaust where she sees images of burnt ashen children, scattering like so many leaves after an atomic blast. It’s an image seared into her brain. She knows it’s going to happen, and she even knows when—August 29th, 1997. However, she has to play nice and pretend she is “all better,” which means denouncing her belief in Judgment Day and the Terminators. Sarah goes through these motions in the hopes that Silberman will transfer her to minimum security. Once there, she hopes to be able to see her son, and warn him of the coming apocalypse. The cynical Silberman realizes she’s only saying what he wants to hear from her, and her request for transfer is denied. In a rage, Sarah attacks the arrogant shrink, who turns to the surveillance camera recording the interview and quips, “Model citizen.”
Note: Earl Boen reprises his role of criminal psychiatrist Dr. Silberman from the first movie. The cynical shrink refuses to believe any part of Sarah’s Terminator stories, even after most of his colleagues at the police precinct were brutally gunned down by the monstrous, unstoppable Terminator ten years earlier. But as we saw in T1, Silberman went home for the night just before the massacre took place. Being a trained police psychiatrist, he was more likely to believe it was some kind of domestic terrorist incident rather than Kyle Reese’s ravings about an unstoppable robot. Boen would reprise the role of Dr. Silberman in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003).
After Sarah is forced to denounce her belief in the Terminators (as well as her accusation that Cyberdyne covered up evidence of their existence), we see the fully stocked computer labs of the Cyberdyne company, where Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) is head of a top tier microprocessor development team that has been secretly reverse-engineering a computer chip and robotic humanoid hand recovered from the wreckage of the first Terminator back in 1984. Two security keys are required to even get a look at the hand and chip, which apparently spawned a whole new line of research for the company. The only price paid by those working on the project? Don’t ask where the chip or robotic hand came from…
Note: Joe Morton gives a very sympathetic portrayal of the movie’s Robert Oppenheimer character, Miles Dyson. Morton was similarly excellent playing the mute titular role in John Sayles’ sci-fi dramedy, “Brother From Another Planet” (1984). Morton played a runaway space slave who finds himself stranded on 1980s Earth, where he earns money magically repairing arcade games while outrunning two aliens sent to retrieve him. The movie is a clever, urbanized riff on Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” (1984). Unpopular opinion: of the two films, I actually prefer “Brother From Another Planet,” which is far less schmaltzy than its more popular mainstream cousin.
Protagonists and antagonist collide when Terminator tracks John Connor down to the mall. The T-1000, using its assumed identity and resources as a police officer, also tracks John to the Reseda shopping center, where the boy is playing games with his buddy Tim in an arcade. As another kid points John out in the crowd, the T-1000 instantly goes into predatory mode—it’s hooded gaze becoming a fixed unblinking stare as he makes a beeline for the boy. Tim tries to distract the T-1000 but is tossed aside like a rag doll. As the T-1000 closes in for the kill in a service corridor behind the arcade, the Terminator converges on the same location. Hiding a large shotgun in a box of roses (get it? “Guns ‘N Roses”? ), the Terminator approaches John from the opposite end of the corridor. A panicked John thinks he’s screwed, just before the Terminator yells, “Get down!” and fires a blast into the T-1000. The blast leaves a large silvery crater in the creature’s liquid metal chest, which quickly closes up. The T-1000 then fires its automatic pistol at John, who is protected as the gargantuan Terminator instantly uses its hulking body as a shield for the boy. Commanding John to run for safety, the Terminator squares off against the T-1000—whose abilities are far superior to the ‘obsolete’ T-800 model. Terminator is thrown through a storefront window by the T-1000, where he is photographed by a tourist (William Wisher, the screenplay’s cowriter). John barely manages to flee the mall on his dirt bike as the frighteningly fast T-1000 runs up and hijacks a large truck to continue his tireless pursuit…
Note: On the downside, T2 also has a distracting amount of product placement. The “Guns ‘N Roses” sight gag was enough (the group did a track for the movie, so quid pro quo, I guess…?) but throughout the movie, we see characters standing (or running) in front of well-lit Pepsi vending machines or awkwardly carrying Pepsi cans so that the labels are perfectly readable on screen. Many other products are similarly staged, or even called out by name, such as “Wild Card Poker” coffee vending machines (my old company had one of those—the coffee tasted like mud filtered through a used gym sock). I understand T2 was the most expensive movie made at the time, but do we have to be reminded of who helped pay the bills every few seconds? I don’t mind using real-world product in movies (it adds to ambient realism), but does every character have to hold a Pepsi can, Dunkin’ Donuts box or vended coffee cup in perfect view of the screen? Watching it on my at-home 7 ft. projector screen in a darkened room, it was even more obvious and annoying now than it was 30 years ago.
John rides his slim motorbike down into a drainage canal of the city and thinks he’s outrun his pursuer…. until the massive rig crashes over the railing of an overpass and somehow lands onto the narrow canal, resuming its pursuit of the boy. As the somehow-still functional rig catches up to John’s tiny bike, Terminator arrives to rescue the boy—jumping his Harley Fatboy into the canal. The Terminator quickly catches up to John, whisking the boy off of his dirt bike and onto his Fatboy. Using one hand to load and fire his shotgun, Terminator blows one of the T-1000’s truck tires into oblivion, sending the careening truck crashing into the concrete. A spark ignites the leaky rig and it’s enveloped by a gasoline-fueled fireball. The Terminator, using his body to shield John on the bike, looks back with the shotgun to make sure the T-1000 doesn’t emerge. As the two speed off on the Harley, we see a silvery form emerge from the flaming wreckage of the big rig. After a few steps, the “mimetic poly-alloy” T-1000 quickly morphs back into the useful visage of an LAPD officer. John and his guardian Terminator pull over for a “time out,” to allow the boy a moment to process everything that’s happened. Terminator tells John that his older future self captured and reprogrammed the cyborg to be “his protector here, in this time.” John now realizes that everything his mother told him about Judgment Day and Terminators as a child was true…
Notes: The movie’s physics are all over the place. For those who couldn’t swallow Sandra Bullock jumping a bus over a 50 ft. freeway construction gap in 1994’s “Speed”? Wait till you get a load of the T-1000 crashing a big rig onto a concrete canal and driving it off in pursuit of a kid on a dirt bike. I shouldn’t even mention that the truck’s suspension, steering column and tires are all intact and still work after landing onto concrete. That’s movie physics; you either buy ’em or you don’t. At any rate, it’s an awesome and terrifying image, and that’s what moving pictures are all about, I guess.
While some of Industrial Light & Magic’s computer-generated visual FX of the T-1000 in its native ‘liquid metal’ state aren’t as convincing now as they were 30 years ago, they still work well enough in service of the story. Visual effects should always be the spice of the meal, not the main course.
John asks the Terminator if they can stop by his house to pick up a few things. The Terminator rejects this plan as too risky–the T-1000 would definitely try to reacquire him there. Despite his own disdain for his foster parents, John asks the Terminator if they can at least warn the Voights of the pending danger. Stopping at a pay phone, John calls his foster mother, who is uncharacteristically concerned for him, and tells him she is “making beef stew for dinner.” John is immediately suspicious (“she’s never this nice!”) and wonders if the T-1000 might already be at the house. Terminator grabs the phone and perfectly mimics John’s voice, tricking the faux-Janelle Voight into revealing herself as the T-1000. Hanging up the phone, Terminator tells John that both of his foster parents are dead. Realizing the T-1000’s next logical step would be to pretend to be Sarah at Pescadero and await his arrival, John tells his guardian cyborg that they have to rescue her at all costs.
Note: I actually met Jeannette Goldstein at a convention in 2004, and we had a delightful chat about her work in the redneck vampire horror movie “Near Dark” (1987) as well her association with James Cameron, whom she worked with on two other projects: “ALIENS” and “Titanic.” “Near Dark” was directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (“Hurt Locker”), who is another ex-wife of Cameron’s, along with writer/producing partner Gale Anne Hurd and Linda Hamilton. Short of criticizing the infamously demanding James Cameron (whose on-set temper is legendary), Goldstein diplomatically offered that the writer/producer/director is simply “a perfectionist.”
Once again, the Terminator rejects John’s plan to rescue his mother as too risky, but this time the future leader of the human resistance against the machines isn’t taking no for an answer. As the Terminator grabs John to stop him from running off, the boy screams “Let me go!” and is abruptly dropped onto the asphalt. It begins to dawn on John that the Terminator has to obey his orders. As two burly guys walk over to help John (who they assume is being kidnapped), John flippantly orders the Terminator to get rid of the two men—and the Terminator pulls out his pistol! Realizing the terrifying power at his command, John snaps to his senses and tells the two well-meaning dudebros to make a run for it. With the Terminator programmed to obey his every word, he chooses his next words to the cyborg very carefully—the Terminator is no longer allowed to kill anyone, and it is also ordered to aid in rescuing John’s mother from Pescadero, despite the danger from the T-1000. Without hesitation, the Terminator agrees to the order.
Note: I felt really bad for the two “jock douchebags” who ran to John’s aid. The two were only trying to help a child they assumed was being kidnapped. For their trouble, they were insulted and nearly killed. While they certainly looked the part of bullies, these two beefy guys were probably the sort who’d give a stranger a push if their car battery died. They didn’t deserve their shabby treatment.
As predicted, the T-1000 arrives at Pascadero, and is let in by the security guard at the main gate, who assumes the ‘cop’ is part of the police entourage that just finished questioning Sarah about the deaths of John’s foster parents and her own involvement with the suspect (who appears to be the same “man” who chased after her back in 1984). During the interrogation, Sarah feigned catatonia, but quietly stole a paperclip to aid in her escape from her cell. The T-1000 slips into Pascadero by camouflaging itself onto the checkered tile floor… later mimicking a portly hospital security guard who steps on it. Meanwhile, Sarah uses her stolen paper clip to pick the locks on her restraints as well as the door to her cell, getting revenge on a sexually harassing guard by using a broken broom handle as an improvised baton. Now free, she steals the unconscious guard’s professional baton to aid her escape from Pescadero. Taking Dr. Silberman hostage, she breaks her psychiatric tormenter’s arm and holds a syringe full of instantly-lethal drain cleaner to his throat, threatening to pump him “full of this shit” if the guards fail to comply. Using the guard’s keys to lock each set of corridor gates behind her, she breaks one of the keys off in the final lock to slow down her pursuers.
Note: The scene of the T-1000 camouflaging itself as the tiled floor is still breathtakingly clever; spreading its dense mass over a large section of the corridor, it can use its various senses to copy the form of whatever steps onto it… in this case, the unwitting guard Lewis, played by Don Stanton. Luckily for director Cameron, Stanton has a twin brother named Dan, who played the T-1000 version of his brother’s character—a low tech solution to depict Lewis’ high tech doppelgänger. Saved on a lot of complex, 1990s-era motion-control FX work, no doubt.
Rounding a corner to the elevators, the doors open and Sarah’s nightmare becomes reality as she sees the Terminator step out into the corridor near her, looking almost exactly as it did in 1984 when it destroyed her entire world and nearly cost her sanity. She can’t even see or hear her own son John yelling after her, as she turns to warn her would-be pursuers “He’ll kill us all!” With the gate locked behind her and the Terminator standing before for, she realizes something is different this time—her son is asking her to trust this machine to help them escape. The Terminator then holds out a hand to her and says the exact words spoken to her by Kyle Reese at the Tech Noir club back in 1984; “Come with me if you want to live.”
Note: Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) does appear in the extended cut of T2 in an earlier version of Sarah’s dream sequence, but more on that later…
Sarah and the Terminator’s breakthrough in trust is quickly reinforced by the appearance of their mutual foe—the T-1000, who has successfully infiltrated deeply into the hospital and is right behind them. Effortlessly, the liquid metal being glides through the corridor’s bars as if they weren’t there, with only its pistol getting briefly caught in the gate. Sarah and John beat a retreat to the elevator with the Terminator right behind them covering their escape. Absorbing multiple bullets into its broad back, the Terminator then turns to fire back at the T-1000, using a close range shotgun shell to momentarily blow the quicksilver menace’s head apart. That buys the trio a few moments to close the elevator behind them. However, the T-1000 leaps down the elevator shaft and lands on the elevator car, using its shapeshifting abilities to turn its arms into long-bladed swords, one of which manages to cut Sarah’s shoulder. Stealing a security guard’s car, Terminator, Sarah and John use it to drive away. The trio barely keeps half a step ahead of the T-1000 as it latches instantly improvised hooks onto the trunk of their car before the Terminator casually blows it off with a shotgun blast, like an unwanted pest. Falling behind, the T-1000 reabsorbs a missing piece of its own liquid metal, which was still tenaciously gripping the car before John tossed it away. Moments later, a cop on a police motorcycle pulls up to the T-1000, assuming it to be a fellow cop. The worried CHiP asks, “Are you okay?” to which the T-1000 answers, with more than a hint of malice, “Fine. Say…that’s a nice bike.”
Note: The piece of T-1000 hooked into the trunk of the escapee’s stolen car… I wonder why it didn’t try to kill John by itself, or even wrap around his wrist like a handcuff? John only had it in his hand for a moment, granted, but we’ve seen the T-1000 move with lightning speed, so it could’ve done some nasty bit of business while John held it, right? Not to be too grisly, but it could’ve formed into sharp blade to cut his wrist. Since John did touch it, could it have copied him later, in an attempt to kill Sarah? Yes, I’m morbid sometimes…
The Terminator, Sarah and John find a closed (or abandoned) gas station where they can hide their stolen car and patch up their wounds; the Terminator has multiple bullet holes, and Sarah has a nasty gash on her back. John takes the time to get to know the Terminator; and he discovers that it can last for 120 years on its existing power cell, and that it has the ability to ‘learn’ human behavior. Sarah also learns the Terminator has ‘detailed files’ on human anatomy; originally designed for maximum carnage, these files also make the Terminator an ideal surgeon to stitch her injuries as well. Their wounds bandaged, the three of them steal a rusty old station wagon from the gas station and head south. During the long drive, Sarah asks the Terminator who created Skynet, the sentient defense program that wages war on humanity. The Terminator tells her that would be Miles Bennett Dyson, a researcher at Cyberdyne whose microprocessor replaces human decisions from strategic defense in a few years, which leads to the creation of Skynet. Skynet becomes self-aware on August 29th, 1997 (at 2:14 am, no less…). Recognizing humanity as an imminent threat, Skynet immediately launches its nuclear arsenal to provoke a Russian response, in the hopes that most of humanity everywhere will be eliminated. Sarah then asks the Terminator for detailed information on Dyson. The trio then stops for food (well, Sarah and John need to eat, anyway) as the Terminator does some work on their rust bucket car. John also uses the opportunity to teach the cyborg about human nature. As the Terminator pours radiator fluid into the car, he and John observe a mother disciplining her two kids, who are playing with toy guns. John wonders aloud if people can ever stop warring with themselves, to which the Terminator coolly responds, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.” Their car and appetites serviced, the trio resume their southward trek.
Note: The trio are clearly forming a ‘nuclear family’ (forgive the pun), with Sarah as the fiercely protective mother, the Terminator acting as a father-figure, and John, of course, being the child for whom they’d both give their lives without question. They even steal a station wagon—station wagons were the cliched car for families back in the 1970s, before the minivan exploded across America a decade or two later. Later on, after arriving at Enrique’s place, Sarah’s voiceover lovingly describes the Terminator as a “perfect father” for John…reiterating how the machine would never get drunk, or beat him, or even yell at him, all the while protecting him without question. I almost wonder if Sarah herself was considering entering into some kind of relationship with this ‘machine’ as well…?
Arriving at the home of Enrique Salceda (Castulo Guerra), a desert-rat survivalist living near the Mexican border, with his wife Jolanda (Diane Rodriguez) and their children. It’s implied that Enrique was one of the men that Sarah ‘used’ for John’s survivalist training, and that despite some bad blood, there is still some affection as well. John remembers Enrique, and introduces the Terminator as their “Uncle Bob.” Enrique doesn’t buy it, of course, but he accepts the stranger into his home….outlaws stick together, I suppose. Sarah immediately asks Enrique for weapons, food and even one of his trucks. Taking her request as the massive imposition that it is, he retorts, “Hey, how about the fillings out of my f—king teeth?” to which Sarah only demands, “Now, Enrique.” Jolanda and the kids welcome Sarah and the others with no reservations, as if they’re long lost family. With temporary safe haven, Sarah assigns John and the Terminator to gather weapons. Finding a hidden armory, even the Terminator is impressed by the quality of the weapons stash, particularly a grenade launcher and a functional minigun–the sort normally mounted to an armed chopper. Hoisting the weapon into his hands, the Terminator shoots John a crooked smile of satisfaction. John replies, “It’s definitely you.”
Note: Back in 1991, I bought a copy of the movie’s illustrated screenplay, which included deleted scenes (most of which I saw later in the Ultimate Edition DVD), and some of which were never filmed, including a bit of dialogue which implied Sarah and Enrique were once lovers. There are hints of a deeper relationship in the script (though not in the final film), as Sarah warns Enrique that it’s not safe to remain at his desert home, and that he needs to take his family and leave. Enrique jokingly replies, “Sure, drop by any time and totally f–k up my life.” In earlier versions of the script, Enrique was a character named Gant, who clearly had a sexual past with Sarah. Some of Gant’s dialogue, with a bit less bitterness, survives in the Enrique character.
While John and the Terminator work to repair the starter motor on one of Enrique’s trucks, Sarah relaxes for a moment on a wooden picnic bench outside. Watching the two work and play together, she realizes that this machine, this “Terminator”, is actually a perfect father figure for her son. She scratches the words “No fate” into the wooden table with her hunting knife. With setting sunlight warming her tired face, Sarah drifts off to sleep. In her dream, she gazes through a chainlink fence to a playground overlooking the city of Los Angeles. Seeing her younger, waitress-uniformed self playing with an infant John, the current Sarah screams for them to run, but they can’t hear her. Suddenly, a piercing white flash appears—a hydrogen bomb has detonated in Los Angeles! Just as she described to Dr. Silberman, instantly burned children are blown away like dried leaves, as the entire city is flattened by a tremendous shock wave of radioactive hellfire. This is the dream that has haunted Sarah for the past decade, the nightmare that only she sees. Awakening a few minutes after sunset, she plunges the knife hard into the table, grabs some weapons and heads to the station wagon. John, realizing something is wrong, tries to stop her but she drives away. Enrique doesn’t seem surprised, since she told him she’d meet them south of the border, but John knows that’s not true. Noticing her carving at the table, John sees the words “No fate.” Two words that were part of a speech he made Kyle memorize up in the future–one of the lines was, “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” John and the Terminator both come to the same conclusion—Sarah is going to kill Miles Bennett Dyson before he can create Skynet. Sarah is off to become a terminator herself.
Note: Minor nitpick, but that line of “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves” is not in the original speech that Kyle was ordered to memorize for Sarah. If you watch “The Terminator” (1984), the entire speech is as follows: “Thank you, Sarah, for your courage through the dark years. I can’t help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive, or I will never exist.” The closest thing Kyle says to that line is “the future is not set,” but he never says the actual words, “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
Sarah arrives late at the Dyson home, while the researcher is busy on his home office computer as his son Danny (DeVaughn Nixon) is stalling his bedtime by playing with his remote-controlled truck, as his mother Tarrisa (S. Epatha Merkerson) tries desperately to get the boy to brush his teeth for bed. As the mischievous boy tinkers with the truck, Sarah aligns the laser sighting of her weapon on the back of Miles’ head. Danny’s truck deliberately nudges his father’s ankle, and just as Miles ducks down to pick the toy up, a shot is fired and his computer explodes! Realizing he just accidentally dodged live gunfire, Miles screamingly pleads for his wife and son to run for safety. Sarah tries a variety of weapons before she shoots Miles in the shoulder. Something unexpected happens, as young Danny runs up and puts his body between Sarah’s gun and his father. The image of the young boy pleading for his father’s life breaks Sarah and she crumples to the floor, unable to finish Miles off. Soon after, as Miles bleeds in agony on the floor, the Terminator arrives with John and they immediately render aid.
Note: While seeing Sarah nearly assassinate an innocent scientist in his home was always difficult to watch, it is far more difficult now in 2021 due to its unintended evocation of current racial violence in the United States. Seeing the movie’s white ‘hero’, Sarah Connor, dressed like a member of a current far-right militia, storming into a home of a black family and shooting them is truly disturbing. There have been so many video-documented cases of violence by far-right extremists (and even overzealous police officers) against people of color in the past few decades that is gives this once racially indifferent scene the sickening feel of a hate crime. It’s very difficult to empathize with Sarah (if one still can) after this scene.
Getting Tarrisa to apply pressure to her husband’s wound, Miles asks, “Who are you people?” to which John replies, “Show ’em.” John tactfully taking Danny out of the room as the Terminator takes a switchblade to cut the outer skin of its left hand open, pulling it off like a glove—and revealing a robotic hand and forearm identical to the one in Cyberdyne’s laboratory vault! While Tarrisa is horrified by the revelation, we see a light of recognition in Miles’ eyes. After putting a glove on over his exposed forearm, the Terminator then reveals ‘the history of the future’ to Miles— how his research will lead to the creation of Skynet, which will seek to eradicate the entire human race. Without hesitation, Miles vows to end his research, but the group realizes that won’t be enough—all of his research must be destroyed as well, so that no one follows his work. Setting a large bonfire of paper and computer discs, Sarah tells Miles that they need to go to Cyberdyne as soon as possible to destroy the company hard drives, as well as the original chip and robotic arm. Reluctantly, Miles agrees.
Note: You can spot the outlines for hidden controls and a battery pack for the robotic arm tucked away in the chest of Arnold’s t-shirt during the robotic hand reveal. Of course, in-universe one could argue that those are just outlines of heavy bandages covering the T-800’s many bullet holes.
Arriving at the gray walled Cyberdyne business park, Miles takes his “friends from out of town” to the front security desk, trying to persuade night security guard Carl (Abdul Salaam El Razaac) that he’s taking these group of odd-looking folks for a late night tour of the lab. A sighing Carl tells Miles that he needs written authorization, blah, blah, blah. This prompts Arnold and Sarah to whip out their weapons. “I insist!” demands the Terminator. We see John approach the guard with a roll of duct tape for his mouth. With Carl out of the way, the trio group gets to work on planting barrels of explosives all over the company labs. Using stolen security keys to access the vault, Miles and John steal the chip and robotic arm as well. Before long, Carl’s security guard associate Moshier (Mike Muscat) notices the empty desk and finds Carl bound and gagged on the floor! Moshier immediately activates the silent alarm under the security desk, and quietly calls the police. Looking at security camera footage, Moshier tells the cops that he recognizes the group as the fugitives he saw earlier on TV. Realizing the alarm’s been tripped, Miles’ security card no longer works, so the Terminator uses more direct methods to blow through the doors. Before long, there are police cars filling the parking lot, as well as a couple of SWAT vans. When Sarah asks John how many police are there, he replies, “All of them, I think.” The time to complete their mission is growing short. Meanwhile, the T-1000 overhears of a “211 in progress” at the Cyberdyne building coming over the radio on his police motorcycle…
Note: Almost forgot about the T-1000, didn’t you? Hell, the T-1000 is out of the movie for so long during its middle act that one almost forgets it’s the group’s other ticking clock.
The charges are set, and the Terminator gives amateur industrial terrorist Dyson a quick lesson on how to arm and detonate the explosives. Before the group can move out to a safe distance, the SWAT teams arrive, and before they can suss out exactly what’s going on, they shoot Miles and pin Sarah behind desks and other equipment she’s using for improvised cover. Trapped in the computer room, the bulletproof Terminator literally walks through walls to retrieve her. Shots are fired inside the building through shattered windows; the Terminator uses its gargantuan, ironically-named ‘minigun’ and fires back. Showering the police cars below in bullets and explosive grenades, the cyborg manages to be mindful of John’s earlier instruction to “no kill anyone.” Scanning the conflagration of burning vehicles below, his internal information display reports “Human casualties: 0.0.”
Note: That was probably one of the hardest things to swallow in the movie, even back when I first saw it; the Terminator sprays the ground below with minigun-fire and grenades yet there are absolutely NO human casualties whatsoever—not even from ricochets. Is there still a thing called shrapnel in this universe…?
The SWAT teams move into the building with tear gas, and the dying Miles volunteers to remain behind, his trembling hand holding a weight directly over the detonation plunger—a dead man’s switch. He dies, they all die. As Sarah, John and the Terminator make their way into a SWAT van to escape, a gasping heroic Miles covers their escape. As the SWAT team moves closer to the gasping scientist, a dying Miles tells them, “I don’t know how much longer I can hold this!” The leader of the SWAT team immediately orders his men to fall back! As they retreat, Miles gasps his last, and drops the weight onto the plunger. The explosion blows out an entire floor of the Cyberdyne building. Police choppers circle the burning building, with one of the pilots remarking that “it looks like a war zone down there!” Meanwhile, the T-1000 is following the trail of destruction to what he hopes will lead him to John Connor. Using its motorcycle to climb the stairwell of the damaged building, the T-1000 eventually makes its way to the lab floor. Once there, the motorcycle-riding liquid robot looks out the window to the street below and sees his quarry fleeing in a stolen SWAT van. Noticing the police helicopter orbiting close to the window, the T-1000 opens the throttle on the police bike and guns directly for the pane of glass ahead…
Note: Not entirely certain why the T-1000 had to drive a 700 lb. police motorcycle up a stairwell instead of simply running up the stairs on foot, but I guess movie had to movie.
The T-1000’s police bike shatters through the window as it leaps off the bike, lunging for the police helicopter instead. Grabbing the window with its entire body, it uses its nascent, still-forming head to smash a hole in the cockpit and pour itself into the copilot’s seat. Leaning over at the shocked pilot, the chrome-bodied cyborg tells him to “Get out” (the line is a callback to the first movie). Without thinking, the pilot opens his door and jumps out, falling from a short hover distance to the pavement. The T-1000 then takes off in pursuit of the renegade SWAT van commandeered by the Terminator, Sarah and John. With Sarah fighting rear guard action from the back of the van, the T-1000 chases the vehicle through overpasses and underpasses. It manages to shoot Sarah in the leg before its chopper crashes onto a stretch of freeway. The disabled SWAT van also crashes a short distance ahead of the downed chopper. The Terminator, Sarah and John exit the van and immediately commandeer a passing gardener’s truck. Always thinking bigger, the T-1000 commandeers a tanker truck filled with liquid nitrogen and their chase is resumed (and yes, the truck’s “liquid nitrogen” label glides past the screen slowly enough to where you know it’s going to be a relevant story point). With Sarah bleeding out, and underage John driving their badly tuned truck (top speed 60 mph), they make for an offramp toward a large steel plant, with the speeding tanker in hot pursuit. Bridging the distance between them, the Terminator leaps onto the tanker and sprays the driver’s side window with machine gun fire in a desperate effort to slow down the T-1000. John crashes the gardening truck into the steel plant, while the liquid nitrogen tanker jackknifes behind them—its super-cold cargo spilling all over.
Note: The steel plant in the film was the abandoned Kaiser Steel in Fontana, California. I know of that because I used to work in that city, not far from the old plant. A buddy of mine used to work there as well before the plant shut down in the 1980s. The popular filming location was also used in “Robocop” (1987) and “Independence Day” (1996). Since the plant was shut down years before filming, there were no vats of molten steel anywhere in the location; it was all simulated using warm-colored gels and other liquids lit from below. I also remember my company Christmas Party back in 1990 taking place at a nearby Hilton hotel where the T2 production company had briefly stayed during filming. There were photos in the lobby of James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others. This was a good seven months before the film was released.
With its truck demolished, the liquid metal T-1000 exits the cab and walks across a newly formed lake of liquid nitrogen. The previously unstoppable, almost supernatural entity seems to have finally found a weakness as the extreme cold of the liquid nitrogen immediately begins to slow it down, its poly alloy hardening to an icy, almost rocklike consistency. With each step becoming increasingly difficult, the deadly machine is stopping as its own feet stick to the ground and break off. Soon even its arms and torso fail to move, and it stops—literally frozen in place. The Terminator sneers at their ice sculpture nemesis and pulls out its pistol. “Hasta la vista, baby,” the cyborg deadpans before firing a single shot into the T-1000, shattering it like so many shards of glass. Sadly, their victory will be short-lived…
Note: Shame that they didn’t start scooping up frozen fragments of T-1000 as fast as they could and immediately tossed them into the nearest smelters. Bless you, 20/20 hindsight!
Heat from the nearby smelters begins to instantly warm the shards of frozen metal, which immediately revert to their natural liquid state. Pooling into a blob, the T-1000 has stored enough ambient energy to begin shapeshifting again. But the T-1000’s brief downtime buys the badly injured Sarah and John some time to hide within the steel mill, as the Terminator covers their escape. Somehow, the wounded Sarah manages to climb steps onto a platform overlooking the molten steel within the smelters. If nothing else, the area is defensible as a last stand. Meanwhile, the Terminator is on a hunt for the T-1000. Using infrared, the Terminator’s visual sensors are nearly blinded by the hot gases and steam from the plant until its opponent lunges out, and the two machines do battle. Although its mimetic morphing ability have began to glitch, the T-1000 is still the superior of the two machines. The Terminator’s left arm then gets caught in a set of massive gears, and it is forced to twist the metal limb off in order to free itself. The T-1000 takes advantage of the weakened opponent by repeatedly smashing it in the head with a heavy, rail-guided iron. Momentarily disoriented, the Terminator collapses, dropping its grenade launcher just beyond its one-armed reach. The T-1000 then grabs a metal spike, ramming through the Terminator’s main power source—effectively killing it. With the battle won, the T-1000 goes off in search of John.
Note: There were extended scenes of the T-1000’s glitching in the Ultimate Edition. More on that after the synopsis.
Instead of finding John, the T-1000 comes across a vengeful Sarah, The T-1000 rams a long metal spike though her right shoulder—promising her that it will stop if she calls to her son. She refuses, offering a half-hissed “F–k you” instead. The T-1000 twists the spike. She endures the white-hot agony, but refuses to yield. Having had physical contact with Sarah, the T-1000 emulates her form and begins to call for John in her own voice. John, believing the sound to be his mother’s voice. As he emerges from hiding, he sees two copies of his mother. The one standing behind the other is wielding a weapon, and for a split second, John assumes she’s about to fire at him until she growls, “Get out the way, John!” John ducks, and Sarah fires at the T-1000, which has reverted back to its policeman visage. One after the other, Sarah begins pumping shotgun rounds into the T-1000’s torso before it has a chance to regenerate, hoping to unbalance it just enough to fall into the molten metal below. She almost makes it, but runs out of ammunition. Elsewhere, the inert Terminator’s systems begin to reroute, searching for its auxiliary power source; a protected emergency battery deep within its torso. Once activated, the red light in the Terminator’s exposed metal eye socket powers back on. Fully activated once again, the badly damaged cyborg pulls the iron spike out of its body and hoists itself up with its remaining arm.
Note: Once again, the production made smart use of the fact that star Linda Hamilton had a twin sister named Leslie, who played the T-1000 doppelgänger of Sarah Connor, saving this already expensive production some money in costly and time-consuming motion control effects work. Sadly, Leslie Hamilton Freas (married name) passed away unexpectedly in August of 2020 at age 63.
Meanwhile, Sarah and John are almost out of options as the T-1000 closes in on Sarah and her son for the final kill. Before it can eliminate them, the Terminator emerge from behind, grenade launcher in its right hand. Sarah yells for John to get down. The Terminator fires, and the grenade lands in the T-1000’s torso—and explodes. The mimetic monster is blown inside out, with its head and neck dangling on the end of an exploded metallic filament. Unable to balance itself, the murderous pile of mercury falls into a vat of molten ore below. Immediately sensing the extreme heat, the T-1000 begins to panic as it rapidly shifts through its catalog of appearances to date…everything from Janelle Voight to the hospital security guard. The entity’s eerie metallic shrieking subsides as it eventually succumbs to the ore and disintegrates. The unstoppable is finally stopped.
Note: The T-1000 was such an innovative idea for a villain that no sequel of T2 has ever really topped it. All terminators in the sequels have been some combination/variation of metal endoskeletons with shapeshifting liquid metal skins. These two forms are, apparently, the best ideas the Terminator franchise ever had, and it’s never been able to top them. “Rise of the Machines” saw a shapeshifting T-X which could hide a plasma weapon in its arm, but it was never used effectively. “Dark Fate” saw a combination endoskeleton with a liquid metal skin that could split into two units, doubling its combat capabilities, but again—variations of the two ideas. Nothing genuinely new.
With their enemy destroyed, the three breathe a collective sigh of relief. John reaches into his backpack and tosses in the arm and chip from the 1984 Terminator, effectively ending that threat. However, the current Terminator realizes that there is still one more chip remaining that must be destroyed—the one inside of its head. Since the Terminator isn’t programmed to self-terminate, it hands Sarah the control box to lower it into the molten ore as well. John sobs, hoping that the father-figure machine will change its mind, but Sarah realizes it has to be done as well. The Terminator tells John that it now understands why humans cry, but that is something it can never do. Lowering their cyborg ally to its fate, the Terminator gives a final thumbs up to its friends before disappearing into the vat of superheated metal. Terminated.
We then see a dark road at night, and we hear Sarah’s voiceover:
“The unknown future rolls towards us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope, because if a machine can learn the value of human life, maybe we can, too.”
I remember hearing of an extended cut of the movie sometime in the mid-1990s. While it was available on laserdisc (my format of choice in those days), I couldn’t bring myself to plunk down another $40 just for a few extra scenes. A few years later, laserdiscs went obsolete and I bought the “Ultimate Edition” T2 DVD, so I was finally able to see the extended cut. I also learned that a third version (with a future coda scene) could be unlocked within the disc’s viewing options by typing in the date of Judgment Day—082997 (kid you not). Unlike Cameron’s “The Abyss,” T2’s changes didn’t dramatically alter the movie, so the theatrical cut wasn’t left feeling like an extended trailer. All versions lead to the same story, so you’re not cheated if you haven’t seen the additional material. Beyond a slew of minor edits too numerous to mention, there are a few very significant additions worth mentioning.
We are reintroduced to Sarah earlier in the extended cut, where we see the first of her ‘judgment day’ nightmares (her second would be in the film’s middle act, and that would be the only dream sequence in the theatrical version). In her first nightmare, Sarah’s late lover Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) ‘visits’ her in her sanitarium cell, where he accusingly urges her to escape and protect their son. They embrace, and he disappears. From there, her dream segues into the Judgment Day nightmare we see later. While I appreciated seeing Biehn again, I can see why the scene was excised; it offers no new information that isn’t given later. Reese’s phantom guilt trip exists only to offer Sarah unneeded motivation—she already has plenty of reasons to escape.
Another significant moment cut (and arguably the most important) takes place during the scene where the freshly escaped Sarah and the Terminator patch up each other’s wounds at the abandoned gas station. It was during this scene where the Terminator offers John the chance to reset his CPU’s switch to “learn” mode, so that he may better understand humanity in order to become a more effective ally. As John carefully removes the CPU chip, Sarah reaches for a nearby sledgehammer to smash it! John barely stops her in time. An angered Sarah tells her son “you don’t know how hard it is to kill these things!” He counters with the equally logical argument that if he’s to be the ‘future leader’ of the resistance, maybe it’s time his own mother trusts his judgment. Reluctantly, a still-seething Sarah concedes to her son’s wish. In the theatrical version, the CPU brain surgery was entirely omitted, with a dubbed line of dialogue by Schwarzenegger explaining the cyborg’s adaptation; “The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn.” Interestingly, a mirror gag was also used in the scene to allow actor Edward Furlong to ‘remove’ the CPU from deep within Arnold’s scalp using a prop head. Linda Hamilton’s own twin sister Leslie appears as Sarah’s ‘mirror’ image to help sell the illusion. As mentioned above, Leslie Hamilton also appeared near the end of the movie as the T-1000 pretending to be Sarah during the final confrontation at the steel mill.
Note: Sarah’s line “You don’t know how hard it is to kill these things” made its way into one of the film’s TV promotional trailers, despite its removal from the theatrical release.
The funniest deleted scene (and one that has since become a popular GIF) is of John teaching the Terminator how to smile outside the Mexican restaurant. On the DVD’s commentary track, Schwarzenegger admits that his forced smiling visage looks “like a horse.” There were also interesting moments of the T-1000 feeling and touching John’s room to search for clues to his current whereabouts. Since the T-1000 mimics whatever it contacts, it uses tactile senses in the way a serpent’s tongue is used to sample local air.
We later see the T-1000’s mimetic ability beginning to ‘glitch’ at the steel mill, as the slightly damaged T-1000 begins sticking to surfaces that it contacts—involuntarily mimicking them as well. Yellow and black lines of OSHA safety tape on rails and floors begin to appear on the creature’s liquid ‘skin.’ Interesting moments to be sure, but none of them are critical to the final story.
The biggest change, and the one I have the most issues with, is a coda added after the final confrontation at the steel mill. It takes place in an alternate future of 2029 where Judgment Day never happened, thanks to our heroes’ intervention. Sarah is now an old woman, dictating her life story into what appears to be a 1991-version of a future smartphone (or a chocolate bar). She’s seated at a park bench in Washington DC, wistfully watching as her middle-aged son John (Michael Edwards), now a US Senator, plays with his own children. She says that Senator John Connor now fights a “different” battle than the one that was foretold to Sarah by Kyle. Things are looking brighter, yada, yada, yada. The End.
Note: The matte painting of future Washington DC’s skyline looks like something rejected from Star Trek, and Sarah’s old age makeup is really bad (her face looks thick and rubbery). Worst of all, this mega-happy ending in an almost utopian future feels false and out of character with the rest of the movie. The theatrical version ends on a more realistic, ambiguous note—given humanity’s own tendency for self-destruction, our future is (at best) a dark highway at night rather than a Jetsons-style utopia. As long as we cautiously and carefully roll forward, there’s hope.
The subsequent spinoffs of T2 have been a mixed bag, but generally they offer diminishing returns. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) is generally a rehash of T2, without Sarah, but with a surprisingly bold and nihilistic ending (in fact, the ending is the best part of the film). “Terminator: Salvation” (2009) is a meandering, “Mad Max”-influenced sequel that feels more like a rejected script treatment that accidentally got a green light. Taking place almost entirely in the post-Judgment Day future, it looks more like it’s set in the sunny Australian outback than a dark, ashy-skied nuclear winter. “Terminator Genisys” (2015) tries to do a “Star Trek” (2009)-style reboot to the franchise, but fails largely due to a disjointed script and poor recasting of Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and Kyle Reese (a fatally miscast Jai Courtney). Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in “Genisys” as a patriarchal Terminator protector named “Pops”, a role he would sort of revisit in the ill-conceived “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019), which is yet another reboot of the series’ continuity, erasing everything after T2. At the very least, “Dark Fate” sees Schwarzenegger and Hamilton reunited again, even if neither actor seems like they belong in this tired universe any more. The Terminator cinematic universe, with its all-over-the-map continuity and constant rebooting, is like a sci-fi cousin to the “Halloween” horror franchise–both ignore their own lore just to make current pieces fit.
Note: Maybe these wildly inconsistent films work better if one thinks of them as a multiverse…?
Despite all of the crash-and-burn cinematic attempts to continue the story after T2, the one that came the closest in tone to T2 was the short-lived Fox TV series, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (2007-2009). With Sarah Heady cast as Sarah Connor, and Thomas Dekker as John Connor. Set a few years after T2, the series follows the fugitive mother and son as they clandestinely resume their quest to prevent Judgment Day from happening. Sarah and John were joined by another reprogrammed cyborg ‘protector’ from the future; an outwardly waifish, female-looking cyborg called “Cameron” (Summer Glau), who is as dangerously unpredictable as she is unintentionally funny. Later, they are joined by the late Kyle Reese’s brother Derek (Brian Austin Greene) as they try to solve the myriad mysteries that lead to the creation of humanity’s cybernetic usurpers. Like “The Mandalorian” does with Star Wars, “Sarah Connor Chronicles” tried to take a deeper, more introspective look into never-seen corners of the Terminator universe. While the series could be a bit slow-paced at times, it was more involving than its flashier, dumber, post-T2 cinematic siblings. For me, it was the only T2 sequel that felt like a legitimate successor.
Note: British actors Lena Heady and Emilia Clarke, both of whom have played Sarah Connor in different Terminator projects, were also costars in HBO’s hugely popular “Game of Thrones” TV series, which ended after seven seasons.
So, what was it like revisiting the movie on a big(gish) screen again after so many years? Well, the action certainly holds up, as do the performances. As John Connor, then-newcomer Edward Furlong arguably gives the best adolescent performance since Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Robert Patrick as the T-1000 is absolutely terrifying, with his hooded stare and the smooth, calculating body language of a predatory animal. Underrated performance. There are also a few things that impacted me very differently in my middle age. Seeing Miles Dyson’s family horrifically terrorized by Sarah (dressed in crazed militia garb) was a lot more personally disturbing for me now than it was in 1991. It was much harder for me to view Sarah Connor as “heroic” after watching her shoot Miles right in front of his wife and son. Overall, I felt a lot more empathy for adjacent characters than I did in my twenties. Seeing innocent bystanders shot, as well as security guards and SWAT teams mutilated by gunfire to their legs was a lot more horrific to me now as an older man coping with injuries I incurred in my own youth. I guess my ‘action callouses’ aren’t quite what they used to be back when I was young (and immortal, of course).
James Cameron’s kinetic direction moves the film along at a rapid-fire pace. Yes, there are movie-physics galore, with way too many characters surviving injuries that they clearly shouldn’t have. However, realism isn’t necessarily the aim for this film. T2 is an action opera—everything is scaled up more broadly from its micro budget predecessor. The action is bigger and wider, the lighting is more colorful, Brad Fiedel’s music is grander, and just about everything else in the movie is dialed up to eleven. Despite bigger budgets and more visual FX, none of the Terminator sequels would never be this powerful ever again. It’s a shame that the Terminator series didn’t simply end with this epic, iconic movie and let the audience figure out the “unknown future” for themselves.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” can be streamed/purchased on Amazon Prime an iTunes, and can be purchased on Blu Ray or DVD via Amazon or in-person (with masks) at retailers like Target or Best Buy. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are just over 578,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, several vaccines have been developed and inoculations have become widespread, which is gradually slowing the US mortality rate (though numbers in Brazil and India are spiking dramatically). Given a certain level of vaccine hesitancy (around 8 percent in the US), it may take longer for for eventual herd immunity. Even with vaccines, the overall situation is not fully safe. Many questions remain regarding the coronavirus variants, or if vaccines fully prevent unwitting transmission from an asymptomatic carrier. If you haven’t already done so, please get vaccinated as soon as possible (I myself have been fully vaccinated now for nearly a month), and let us all vaccinate our way out of the COVID pandemic.
Be safe and use good judgment.