“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”.
Yes, friends, today’s the day that Skynet, the malevolent artificial intelligence of the Terminator franchise (Various, 1984 to 2019) was said to have launched an all-out nuclear attack against humanity and reduced us to the point of extinction. Subsequent Terminator films and media may have changed this date, and the specifics of Judgement Day, but one thing’s for sure: there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.
Released: 29 October 2001
Originally Released: 3 July 1991
Director: James Cameron
Distributor: Tri-Star Pictures
Budget: $94 to 102 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, and Joe Morton
After narrowly escaping a killer cyborg sent from a war-torn future, Sarah Connor (Hamilton) has been confined to a mental institution and remains both haunted by visions of a nuclear war incited by the malevolent artificial intelligence Skynet and estranged from her young son, John (Furlong). However, when Skynet sends back an advanced prototype T-1000 (Patrick) composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill John, Sarah must join forces with a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to protect her son and try and prevent the near-extinction of the human race!
Considering the financial success of The Terminator (Cameron, 1984), a sequel was all-but-inevitable but initially hampered by a number of technical issues, primarily the question of digital effects and a legal dispute regarding the franchise rights. Once these were resolved, Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and Hamilton reunited to collaborate on the natural next step in the narrative, which recast the T-800 as a protector figure. The sequel was afforded a budget fifteen times that of the original and was the most expensive film made at the time; it was also a ground-breaking film in the field of digital effects and continued to employ the services of the legendary Stan Winston for its complex practical, make-up, and model effects. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a massive success; it received rave reviews at the time, made over $520 million at the box office, and has come to be widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. Fifteen minutes of additional footage were added to the film’s home release, a digitally remastered 3D version was released on 17 February 2017, and the film was accompanied by a slew of merchandise (such as action figures and videogames) as well as directly informing many of its sequels.
Some ten years have passed since the events of the first film and much has changed in that time; first and foremost, Sarah successfully gave birth to John, the son of her protector from the future and the fated saviour of humanity in the war against the machines. However, having been imparted with knowledge of the future by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the first film and following her terrifying experience with the Terminator, Sarah has transformed from a helpless and confused waitress to a strong-willed woman of action and blinkered focus. We’re told by John that his childhood was one of rigorous training and preparation for his future role, which saw Sarah taking him out to Mexico and “shacking up” with as many men as she could in order to learn and impart skills and knowledge necessary to prepare John to be the future leader of humanity, which has driven a wedge between the two as John simply wants his mother’s love.
The burden of knowledge has fractured Sarah’s mind, however; like Reese, she is tormented by dreams of the Future War and also nightmares showcasing (in graphic detail) the fiery destruction of the vast majority of the human race. In an effort to try and circumvent this future, she tried to destroy Skynet before it could be created and, as a result, was arrested and committed to a mental hospital, where Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen) worked somewhat unsuccessfully to help her through her trauma. A calculating and intelligent woman, Sarah attempts to feign compliance after her aggressive and distraught honesty led only to her being denied access to visitors and with no hope of ever escaping the institute. When Silberman sees through this deception, Sarah snaps and showcases her intense aggression, attacking Silberman and his staff without mercy since, to her, they’re already dead anyway. After learning that she’ll never be allowed to see John again, Sarah puts into a motion a plan to escape that goes surprisingly well until she comes face-to-face with the new Terminator and all of her fight and hostility is instantly replaced with a panicked terror; even after John assures her of the Terminator’s new mission, she remains cold and distrustful of her new ally throughout the film.
At the start of the film, John is little more than a juvenile delinquent; frustrated by his mother’s harsh upbringing and subjecting him to a childhood that was anything but normal, he frequently defies his foster parents and is concerned more with ripping off cash machines using his hacking skills and spending stolen money in the arcades. Having grown up hearing all about his mother’s knowledge of the future and his destiny as the leader of the human resistance, John is well aware of the Terminator, Skynet, and the Future War but never actually believed in any of it. Consequently, he is both stunned, excited, and guilt-ridden when the Terminator arrives and confirms that everything Sarah told him was absolutely true. Determined to make amends for his lack of belief, John orders his protector to help him rescue her despite the obvious risks involved, and is heartbroken when Sarah rebukes his concerns and chastises him for putting himself at risk. Having grown up without a father, John has had to feel the anguish of his mother’s boyfriends and partners leaving over and over, leaving a void in his heart for a father figure that the Terminator fills with startling efficiency and, in the Terminator, John finds a friend, confidant, and partner with whom he can open up to, teach how to be hip and cool, and also the perfect weapon to assist in ensuring that the apocalyptic future never comes to pass.
Considering that the Terminator instantly became one of cinema’s most relentless and fearsome screen villains in the first film, the decision to turn that characterisation on its head and recast Schwarzenegger as a protector was an inspired move. Thematically, it works wonders for Sarah’s character arc; indeed, her cold-blooded focus on destroying Skynet makes her just as much of an uncompromising machine as her hated nemesis and one of the principal messages of Terminator 2 is that the titular machine ends up learning the value of human life and being more human than those who created Skynet in the first place. For the first twenty minutes or so, however, the film is shot in a way to suggest that the Terminator is the same emotionless killer from the first film, albeit now seen as this bad-ass villain who we can’t help but root for. It isn’t until the Terminator comes face-to-face with the T-1000 that we truly learn that this new T-800 is here to help John, rather than kill him. From that point on, the Terminator becomes a far chattier and more layered character than in the first film; it exposits information, unquestionably follows John’s orders even when it disagrees with the risk involved, and tirelessly works around the clock to keep him and his mother safe. Crucially, the Terminator is noted to be at an extreme disadvantage this time around; not only does the T-1000 have the same files and knowledge as the Terminator, it’s also faster and more advanced and a “far more effective killing machine”. This means that, for all the Terminator’s strength and capabilities, it’s rarely ever portrayed as being anything other than an inferior model. Like Reese, the Terminator is thus forced to flee more often than fighting and to adapt its tactics to utilise more than simple firearms to keep the T-1000 at bay, which goes a long way to furthering the Terminator’s new role as a vulnerable protagonist.
In contrast, the T-1000 is so much more efficient that you would be forgiven for initially thinking that it was another slender human protector sent back to keep John from harm; effortlessly charming and deceptive, it can easily earn the trust of unassuming humans with its candid tones but, when that fails, it can shapeshift into a number of other forms to gain access to restricted areas, equipment, and weapons that the protagonists can’t. Once you set aside the pretty large plot hole of how a machine comprised entirely of liquid metal was able to make the trip back in time when the first film established that “nothing dead will go” through the Time Displacement Equipment, and the question of how it even operates if it’s entirely comprised of ever-changing atoms, the T-1000’s rules and limitations are surprisingly well thought out. It’s established that it can’t transform into guns or bombs because of the additional chemicals and parts that make those up, and than it can’t shapeshift into anything bigger or smaller than its default dimensions. This still makes it an extremely lethal killing machine, however, as it’s easily able to form knives and other bladed appendages out of its limbs, grow an additional arm to help fly a helicopter while reloading, and disguise itself as parts of the environment in order to assimilate additional organic data. As merciless and relentless as the original Terminator was, the T-1000 is made even more callous and terrifying through its nimble speed, its sheer tenacity, and the unsettling way it closes up wounds and returns to the fight within seconds of being downed.
Although the T-1000 remains a constant threat in the film and is so significant as a danger that the Terminator transports its charges all the way to a desolate Mexican desert just to avoid the killer, Sarah’s obsession with preventing Judgement Day leads her to tracking down the man most directly responsible, Miles Dyson (Morton). A simple family man, Dyson has been led to a breakthrough in artificial intelligence and technology thanks to his research on the damaged CPU and severed arm of the original Terminator; these have allowed him to effectively begin the process of Skynet’s creation and unknowingly doom the world to near extinction, something that Sarah is so adamant about preventing that she very nearly kills him in cold blood. Thanks to seeing the monster she has become reflected in the eyes of Dyson and his family, she collapses into a mournful heap before she can go through with it, and Dyson is disgusted to learn where his research will lead. Immediately repentant, he agrees to get the group into the Cyberdyne building so that they can destroy all of his research; this is a poignant decision on his behalf as we clearly see how enthusiastic he was about his work and how he often prioritised it over his family life, however he becomes so willing to eradicate his research that he willingly sacrifices his life to ensure that Skynet can never be created.
It’s tough for me to decide which film I prefer out of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. As fantastic and influential and ambitious as the first film was, the sequel is bigger and better in every way; the score is more foreboding and haunting than ever as the T-1000’s droning theme raises the tension alongside the traditional Terminator theme to help punctuate the film’s many action scenes. Additionally, the special and practical effects are better than ever and the entire film just looks more expensive and of a higher quality; there’s something to be said for the gritty nature of the first film but it’s equally hard to deny the appeal of the sequel’s slick presentation.
We see this immediately as the film opens on an incredible rendition of the Future War; we saw snippets of this conflict in the first film but, here, everything is so much bigger and more impressive. Even now, I find it difficult to believe that this is a complex combination of miniatures, models, and forced perspective to show Hunter-Killers and Terminators flawing, crawling, and marching along a field of skulls and wreckage and exchanging plasma fire with the Resistance fighters. This is the scene that made me want to see a whole movie set during the Future War and I still feel like this would have made for a more effective and fitting follow-up to the first two films; just imagine an army of CGI Arnolds marching through an apocalyptic wasteland while Brad Fiedel’s iconic, imposing score blares out? Similar effects are used to bring to life Sarah’s disturbing nightmares of nuclear holocaust; again realised using complex miniatures and puppets, these make for some of the most unsettling scenes of destruction in any film and remain as impactful as ever thanks to the sheer amount of time and effort than went into creation a realistic depiction of the end of the world.
Of course, the true star of the show in terms of special effects is the T-1000; largely realised entirely through cutting edge CGI, the T-1000 is an unnerving screen villain that switches in a heartbeat from charming and affable to stoic and ruthless and we see in full detail how it is able to assume the form of those it touches and then dispose of the original with gruesome efficiency. I think what makes the T-1000 work so well is how often its more monstrous forms and sharp implements are represented using practical effects such as puppetry and animatronics that work wonderfully with the CGI effects (which still hold up to this day) so we can see the actor reacting to being shot and close range, cut to a squealing, twisted animatronic, and then marvel at the T-1000 zipping itself back together using CGI. Its abilities and aggression escalate as the film progresses, allowing it to start off largely employing subterfuge and then forming sword and claw-like appendages on its arms, being frozen into a fragile statue of pure disbelief at being bested, and finally being left as this wailing, grotesque mess of limbs and silvery innards before being sent crashing to the molten steel below. Considering that the T-1000 had been a great imitator of emotions and deception throughout the film, there’s something incredibly disturbing at seeing and hearing it thrash about in its death throws, screaming in agony and rage before finally melting away to nothingness with a look of undeniable anguish.
The Special Edition version of the film adds some additional footage that was cut from the theatrical version. This includes an earlier, short scene of Sarah’s nightmare of the inevitably nuclear war that consumes humanity and, as part of that, a sequence in which she is visited by Kyle Reese in a dream where he encourages her to get back into the fight and to protect John. As a big fan of Michael Biehn and Reese’s character, I enjoyed seeing this scene added back into the film; it also goes a long way to show just how deep Sarah’s fear and psychosis have progressed and lends some credibility to the argument that she’s been driven more than a little mad by her knowledge of the future and terror of the impending destruction of humanity. One of the longest and most impressive scenes reintegrated into the film is an alternative take on the Terminator’s reprogramming; in the theatrical version, the Terminator simply states that all of the T-800s are capable of growing beyond their programming but, here, Sarah and John have to open up the Terminator’s skull and extract its CPU so that it can learn to be more human. This is fantastically realised in a complex sequence involving a model of Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton’s twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Gearren, and features a tense confrontation between Sarah and John where he basically orders her to trust his instincts regarding the Terminator rather than destroying the CPU. Other scenes include a somewhat unnecessary shot of the T-1000 discovering that the Terminator tricked him and killing John’s dog, and an extended sequence near the end where, after being blown to pieces by the Terminator, it’s made more explicit that the T-1000 is malfunctioning. I’m a fan of this addition as well as it show just how traumatic being frozen and blasted into pieces was for the T-1000 and allows it to be a step slower and a bit more unreliable than usual; it may also go some way to explaining why it decided to try and intimidate Sarah into calling out to John rather than simply assuming her form as its shapeshifting abilities were clearly screwed up after reassembling itself.
The extended scenes also add a lot more to the Terminator’s characterisation; a pivotal story arc of the film is the Terminator learning what it means to be human and taking on more normal mannerisms, such as smiling, quipping, and just considering the impact of mindlessly killing those in its path. When John first orders it not to kill, the Terminator is confused (disdainful, even) at the idea and is forced by its programming to simply follow John’s orders to the letter. It’s not until much later in the film, after it forms a bond with John, that the once terrifying killing machine understands why human lives are so valued and to be cherished. Until then, though, it takes its orders literally, resulting in scenes both amusing and bad-ass as it goes out of its way to wound or chase off the police with its weapons; seeing the Terminator as a straight “man” awkwardly trying to pass as normal makes for some of the film’s best and most amusing moments: its attempt at smiling is painful, the way it regards children is just fantastic, and it absolutely nails the nineties one-liners John teaches it to deliver some of Arnold’s most memorable quips. Even Sarah has to admit to being impressed with the machine’s absolutely devotion towards John; she even comes to trust it enough to leave John in its care as she goes off on her solo mission to kill Dyson and one of the most moving scenes in the entire franchise comes right at the end where she shakes the Terminator’s hand and gives it her respect.
Indeed, the entire finale of the film makes for one of the most action-packed and emotionally charged I’ve ever seen, especially in a sci-fi action film; following the massive explosion at Cyberdyne and an absolutely incredible car chase that sees the protagonists desperately trying to out-run a helicopter and a truck full of liquid nitrogen, they’re forced into a final showdown at a steel mill. With Sarah wounded from a bullet to the leg and the Terminator’s human façade cracking from all the shots it has absorbed, they’re forced deeper into the red-hot facility when the T-1000 manages to recover from being frozen and blasted into pieces. We then get an absolutely brutal throwdown between the Terminator and the T-1000 in which no words are said and no sounds are heard except for the clang of metal on metal; here, we truly see how outclassed the Terminator is as the T-1000 effortlessly tosses it around and overwhelms it, smashing its face apart with a huge girder and then seemingly destroying it by impaling it on a spike. Thankfully, the Terminator comes with a back-up power source and it struggles back to “life”; despite missing an arm and being beaten all to hell, it manages to recover long enough to deliver the final blow to the T-1000, ending its threat forever, and their mission to destroy Skynet and prevent the future seems to have been accomplished after John tosses the first Terminator’s arm and CPU into the molten steel. However, the new Terminator still remains and John is absolutely distraught at the idea of his friend and father figure sacrificing itself to ensure the future; yet, despite his desperate pleas and orders, the Terminator’s destruction is the only way to end Skynet’s threat and so, after a heartfelt goodbye to them both, the Terminator is lowered to its demise in an absolutely heart-breaking sequence that sees this once relentless and remorseless killer cemented forever as one of cinema’s most beloved heroes.
It’s difficult to express in words how much I adore this film; I love the original, especially for how dark and gritty it is and how it’s much more like a horror film than a traditional sci-fi action flick but there’s no denying that Terminator 2: Judgment Day does everything bigger and better. The Terminator put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map but its blockbuster sequel made him a mainstream star. After this, he would forever be cemented as the wise-cracking hero in action films for pretty much the remainder of his career as a film star. Not only that, Terminator 2 became the standard template for every subsequent movie in the franchise bar one; with the except of the under-rated Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009), all of the Terminator sequels and even the short-lived television series tried to emulate this film in some way, which has led only to a string of lacklustre productions as a result. Still, that doesn’t take away from how awesome Terminator 2 is; from Sarah’s physical and mental instability and transformation to the ruthless tenacity of the T-1000, to the incredible depiction of the Future War and the ground-breaking special and practical effects, Terminator 2 pretty much has it all. This extended version of the film remains the definitive version for me thanks to a much-appreciated cameo by Michael Biehn and expanding on scenes of our impending destruction and the two Terminators. Although it’s a longer movie at almost two-and-a-half hours, it’s an endlessly exhilarating experience from start to finish and I could honestly put Terminator 2 on every single day and never get bored; everything from the performances, the ominous score, and the explosive action is absolutely top-notch and it’s quite possibly the greatest film in the entire franchise and possibly Arnold’s career.
What are your thoughts on Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How do you think it holds up today, especially compared to the first film and the other sequels? What did you think to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in the film and did you enjoy seeing him cast as a protector this time around? What did you think to T-1000 and its abilities? Were you surprised to find the T-800 was the good guy this time and what did you think to the CGI and other special effects used to bring the T-1000 to life? How are you celebrating Judgement Day today? No matter what you think about Terminator 2, and the Terminator franchise, feel free to sign up and leave a reply down below or drop a comment on my social media.