When James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger collaborated on The Terminator in 1984 they created a franchise that has run for over two decades. The most successful both critically and commercially of the franchise is its immediate sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which reverses the role of Arnie’s character from killing machine to protector of a young John Connor (Edward Furlong). Terminator 2: Judgment Day was phenomenally successful at the box office taking over $500m from its budget of $100m.
Set 10 years after the events of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day sees Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) with her now 10-year-old son John (Furlong) living on the edge of society. She has spent the last decade training her son to protect himself from the threat of Skynet and secretly preparing him to be the leader of the rebellion in the future. Suddenly Skynet send back a new model of Terminator, the shape-shifting T1000 (Robert Patrick) to kill John and thus stop the rebellion in the past. Aware of this, John from the future sends back a reprogrammed T800 (Schwarzenegger) to protect his young self and preserve the timeline.
It’s clear that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is based on a script that has had some thought put into it. Cameron drew inspiration for the T1000 on previous drafts of the original The Terminator script, but had to wait until technology could meet his demands in visual effects. At time of release Terminator 2: Judgment Day was one of the most widely praised visual effects films of all time. It effectively set Cameron on a path of progressing effects technology in the pursuit of narrative which would lead to him creating Titanic and Avatar.
The central relationship in Terminator 2: Judgment Day between the T800 and young John Connor is one of the most moving examples of characterisation within the confines of an action film. Cameron works very hard to make us first trust the killer robot, and then has the audacity to make us care about what happens to him. Later robot-starring films like Iron Man and Real Steel attempt the same thing to varying degrees of succes, but in Terminator 2: Judgment Day we really do have a metallic man to call our very own.
It should be made clear that the characterisation does not come at the expense of the action, which is relentless and breathtaking. The chase scene through the levy involving a motorbike and a lorry is one of the most iconic action chase scenes of all time and proved just how talented an action director Cameron had become. The final showdown with the Connors, the T800 against the T1000 is as emotionally charged and visually stunning as action films get.
There’s also a great spine of comedy throughout Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with scenes of John teaching the T800 to be more human an absolute riot in gentle self-deprecation. Linda Hamilton is also on fine form, narrating the sometimes melodramatic action with gusto and you really feel that this is a woman who has lived through Hell to raise a child, aware the whole time that the end of the world is coming. It’s both heart-breaking and inspiring and that’s the films great strength.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day stands tall alongside the collected works of James Cameron and despite not making as much money as Titanic or Avatar, might just be one of the best paced, directed and action films he has ever created. It firmly established The Terminator mythos in popular culture to the point where there have been numerous sequels that still gain attention to this day.