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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

#403 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron, 1991

A cyborg is sent back in time from a future where humans and artificially intelligent machines are locked in constant war in order to murder the leader of the human resistance while he is still a young boy.

The Terminator run-the-series continues with Terminator 2, which is often considered the best film in the series and one of the best blockbusters ever made. It's not without reason as its ability to balance ground-breaking special effects and exciting action with a competently written science-fiction storyline that more than justifies a sequel's existence (though, like any Terminator continuation, its existence threatens to compromise the logic of the universe established by the original film, but whatever). The radically increased scale takes the franchise from its humble yet ambitious B-movie origins into the stratosphere and becomes one of the definitive blockbusters to the point where many lesser imitators (and even its successors within the franchise) do their best to duplicate its rather deft combination of plot and spectacle. Of course, even now after having been wowed by it at first (hey, I was thirteen, what did you expect?), I never quite considered it to be superior to its predecessor, flawed that it may be.

If Terminator 2 can be said to have inspired a whole generation of blockbusters, then it's not hard to see the flaws that would definitely get magnified by many other films that failed to capture the same magic. For starters, it's a bit on the long side no matter what edition you watch (I think the bulk of my viewings have involved the special edition, which adds roughly fifteen minutes of scenes). At least even in the extended version the extra scenes add to the film more so than they detract, but even so the execution of the exposition tends to be bloated and less engaging than its predecessor (especially when a lot of it involves Edward Furlong as the young version of John Connor, who was decent enough on initial viewings but now a lot of the scenes that involve him in a greater capacity do tend to drag, with the occasional exception involving his humourous attempts to bond with Arnold Schwarzenegger's emotionless killing machine). The characterisation is solid enough now that there are two cyborgs on the scene - Schwarzenegger's reputation for becoming a charismatic fountain of one-liners isn't remotely tempered by his character's mechanical stoicism, while Robert Patrick as the antagonistic T-1000 also comes as a surprise not just because of his shape-shifting qualities but also because of his far more human mannerisms that serve to distinguish him further. Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, whose determination to prepare both herself and John for Judgment Day has made her into a fearsome warrior at the cost of at least some of her sanity (she does spend the first act of the film in a mental institution, after all), while character actor Joe Morton plays Miles Dyson, the tech genius whose groundbreaking work is what leads to the creation of the system of robot overlords known as Skynet. He gets in a solid sub-plot as a well-intentioned scientist who is forced to confront the reality of what he's created.

Action-wise, the film is rightly considered a classic, though it's not hard to pinpoint several instances of short-sightedness or incompetence on the part of hero and villain alike that extend and complicate the plot (for a ruthless killing machine who provides the bulk of the film's body count, the T-1000 sure as hell can't hit his primary target). Gunfights, fistfights, chases involving running and several different types of motorised vehicle, explosions, a relative lack of human casualties, and one awfully contrived yet visually stunning finale abound. The effort put into the CGI still shows up many films that followed in its wake, while Stan Winston once again provides magnificient-looking practical effects to temper the computerised work. While it generally has a reputation for being a superior film to The Terminator, I find that its slightly excessive running time and less-than-stellar use of its quieter scenes are points that work against it just a little too much for its own good. It'd be interesting to see if it could get whittled down to about 100 minutes or so, though I definitely think there's enough here that cutting it down that much would definitely be a mistake.