Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE APOCALYPSE: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

“Come with me, if you want to live.”

Terminator 2:Judgment Day, 1991 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) TriStar Pictures

Previously in my review for The Terminator, I explained my confusion as to how Kyle Reese could exist in the future if he died in the past. My diligent wife constructed a “time-line” (on Post-It notes) for Reese to demonstrate how he could exist in his own time-line without vastly impacting history around him. I still don’t understand. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but luckily Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a better grasp of logic in the storytelling. There are four items in this movie that must be destroyed in order to change the future, but it does require suspension of some disbelief. The biggest hurdle is the “re-programmed” Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

I don’t know how they managed it but the resistance force (led by General John Connor) captured a Cyberdyne Systems T-800 Terminator and alter the programming so they can send it back in time to protect the teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong) from a new kind of killing machine: The T-1000 “liquid metal” Terminator (Robert Patrick). Patrick can morph into any form he chooses, including people. He can transform his arms into stabbing objects and make life generally unpleasant for anyone near him. Young John has grown up in the foster system while his mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has been locked away in the Pescadero State Hospital after she was arrested for attempting to destroy a computer factory. Her stories of cybernetic terminators from the future trying to kill her and John did not impress her doctors, and even her own son thinks she’s batty.

That is until he is attacked by the T-1000 and then rescued by Arnold in an incredible, sustained action sequence that starts in the Westfield shopping mall and ends in the Tujunga Wash near the Los Angeles River. Since Arnold was programmed by the senior Connor to obey his younger self’s commands, he is ordered to rescue John’s mother from the sanitarium. Watching the movie, it seems Sarah really doesn’t need their help (at least until Robert Patrick shows up to spoil everybody’s fun). When she’s convinced Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen, reprising his role from The Terminator) has no intention of releasing her into the general prisoner population, she plans her escape. The T-1000, while belligerent and relentless (as well as more intuitive than the original Terminator), is always, interestingly one step behind the Connors and Arnold.

Sarah takes them out in the desert where they hook up with her survivalist prepper friends and grab some guns and a vehicle. Sarah decides to go right to the source of her woes: Miles Dyson, the cybernetics genius who will unknowingly kick off the rise of the machines. This is where we get the low-down on how it happens. On August 4, 1997, Skynet will become self-aware. 25 days later, Skynet will initiate a nuclear war, killing three billion people (also known as “Judgment Day”). Presuming Dyson to be an evil revenant rather than just an idiot, Sarah ditches John and the Terminator breaks into Dyson’s house and attempts to kill him. John and the Terminator catch up to her and try to calm her down. A confused Dyson had no idea (how could he?) his work would evolve into a final World War. He agrees to help them destroy the primary evidence; two of the four items that would be used to advance Skynet’s technology: a partially-consumed microchip and the original Terminator arm recovered from the first movie.

The four of them break into Cyberdyne headquarters after hours and appropriate the chip and arm, and again the T-1000 is one step behind them. It’s also possible Dyson’s wife and child were killed by him en route, but we don’t want to think about that. As I’ve said, the T-1000 is superior to the original Terminator in many ways, not the least of which is his ability to mimic certain behaviors. In the original movie, Arnold is monosyllabic; a pile of meat over a metal skeleton, and he wouldn’t be able to get away with much before his nature was suspected. Throw Los Angeles cops into this mess and our heroes have bigger problems.

Dyson is fatally wounded as the cops (and Patrick) converge on the Cyberdyne building. Dyson sacrifices his life to blow up the building. The Connors and Arnold manage to escape with Patrick hot on their heels. They make it to a steel mill and toss the chip and arm into a vat of molten steel. The other key components are the terminators. Any and all trace of this technology must be destroyed. It’s a weird idea but I was thinking all Sarah had to do was find that arm and chip and destroy them and then there wouldn’t be a need for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Of course, that would’ve been a loss to everyone.

Terminator 2 is a movie that surpasses the original Terminator in every way: visual effects, performances, production design, cinematography, sound design, and most importantly — ambition. This is an incredibly ambitious sequel. Jim Cameron wisely places the emphasis on Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, and Robert Patrick while exploiting the popular appeal of Schwarzenegger and portraying his strengths as a movie star. 1991 was the Summer of T2 and quite possibly the first time a movie’s title was abbreviated but still identifiable. The movie made half a billion dollars worldwide and, for a time, held the record for the highest-grossing “R”-rated film until 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded.

Related Articles