It’s a Classic: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“I’ll be back…”

Edward Furlong joins a returning Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger for James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (image credit: StudioCanal).

Year:  1991

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton

Director:  James Cameron / written by:  James Cameron & William Wisher

What’s it about?

A reprogrammed cyborg is sent back in time to protect John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance against Skynet, an advanced A.I. that once attempted to have his mother ‘terminated’ and has now sent another killing machine to eliminate John…

In review: why it’s a classic

Irrefutably one of the greatest sequels of all time and a science fiction action classic on its own merits, Terminator 2: Judgment Day takes everything that was achieved with 1984’s The Terminator and amplifies it with the gift of a generous production budget in the region of $100 million (making it the most expensive film ever produced at the time) and cutting-edge special effects presenting a blockbuster film on an epic scale.  Returning to direct is James Cameron (who also produces and co-writes with William Wisher), whose career was launched with the surprise success of The Terminator and quickly assured by Aliens in 1986.  Cameron’s direction is both masterful and meticulous ensuring that T2 engages and thrills whilst having the same commitment to innovation the filmmaker had demonstrated previously.

At this point a household name as one of the world’s biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises the role that made him – the Terminator.  Having become more familiar to audiences as the hero rather than the villain, T2 makes a creative switch with its lead actor and this time out Arnie gets to play the good guy, a reprogrammed T-800 model Terminator sent back in time by the human resistance to protect a young John Connor from being murdered by Skynet’s (the genocidal A.I. attempting to exterminate mankind) own Terminator, the morphing liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  Also returning is Linda Hamilton in a career high, providing an intense performance as a hardened and weary Sarah Connor, a credible evolution of the underdog everyday girl of The Terminator, physically and emotionally transformed into the troubled and burdened woman we meet in T2, now institutionalised and unable to safeguard her son.  Edward Furlong hits the ground running in his introductory film role as the rebellious pre-teen John Connor.  The young Connor’s ‘hero’ arc in T2, together with the surrogate father relationship he establishes with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is the core of the film without which it simply would not have succeeded.  The excellent Joe Morton is also suitably cast as Miles Dyson, the man whose work would lead to the creation of Skynet and there are some great moments with him as he learns of what the future holds.

Not enough can be said of Robert Patrick, who puts in a chilling and predatory performance as the relentless and formidable T-1000, brought effectively to life using revolutionary computer-generated effects (supervised by Denis Muren, who would work with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park) which builds upon the pioneering CGI utilised by James Cameron in The Abyss.  The equally impressive practical effects and prosthetic/makeup designs are once again handled by Stan Winston and his team, integrating seamlessly into the film to provide a sense of authenticity and believability.  The superb technical work on T2 would rightfully result in Academy Awards for make-up, visual effects and sound.

Robert Patrick as the relentless T-1000 Terminator (image credit: StudioCanal).

The action set-pieces remain phenomenal and really hold-up when viewed today, enhanced by Adam Greenberg’s Oscar nominated cinematography.  From the opening sequences depicting the war-ravaged future of 2029, the T1000’s tanker truck pursuit of John Connor and his Terminator guardian and the rescue of Sarah Connor from the Pescadero mental institute to the assault on the Cyberdyne labs and the gripping steel-mill finale it’s all thoroughly entertaining, culminating in a crushing emotional pay-off.  Adding to this is composer Brad Fiedel who provides another memorable score, his electronic-synth music building upon the themes he crafted for The Terminator, highlighting all the excitement, tension and emotion of T2.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day would go on to gross over $500 million worldwide, a significant sum back in 1991 and a huge hit for the once mighty Carolco Pictures.  James Cameron would revisit the film to produce a ‘Special Edition’ extended cut (including a dream sequence that features Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, reprising his role from The Terminator) two years later and a 3D theatrical re-release in 2017.  Beyond its ambitious effects work and action spectacle, T2 is a film with a great deal of heart and humanity at its core and it’s the successful marriage of those components – together with its wonderful cast – that makes it a film that continues to resonate with viewers thirty years later.

Standout moment

Tracking John Connor to a mall, the T-1000, disguised as a police officer, gives chase to its target.  But John is not alone as a large, shotgun wielding man comes to his rescue…

Geek fact!

Whilst Earl Boen is another actor to return from The Terminator, as Dr. Silberman, there is one more face from James Cameron’s 1984 classic to appear in Terminator 2: screenwriter William Wisher, who cameoed as an L.A. cop in The Terminator is seen as one of the mall patrons, taking pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fallen T-800.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

13 thoughts on “It’s a Classic: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

  1. Terminator 2 is one of my favourite Sci-Fi sequels. It just takes the concept to a whole new level. Remember seeing it for the first time and was totally blown away by its spectacular blend of action and ground breaking special effects. A brilliant film!

    • It’s great that it still holds up really well 30 years later and makes me yearn for more large scale practical effects in films rather than an overload of CGI which can actual be detrimental. The CGI footage in T2 actually only amounts to about 4/5 minutes in total, I read!

      • Yeah, T2 was easily a benchmark in terms of high quality action scenes and the potential offered by CGI. The effects in T2 are still stunning but its the incredible big action set pieces that really stand out. Shame to see how modern films have gone so heavily into CGI rather than practical effects, which always look so much better.

  2. Excellent retrospective of a timeless (no pun intended) classic. T2 hit it out of the park immediately when it was released and has stood the test of time. Although I love the film, I can’t help enjoying the original a bit more only because it was so raw and brutal, yet T2 is superior when it comes to effects (of course!), acting, directing, etc. Cameron and crew were certainly at the top of their game with the sequel.

    It’s a shame none of the other sequels have measured up to the first two films, though the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a worthy effort that added to the Terminator mythos. And in some ways I consider the attraction once at Universal Studios to be a true followup since it was the last time Cameron teamed up with Schwarzenegger, Hamilton, Furlong and Patrick to deliver a fun mini-film.

    • Haha, pun fully taken! I agree with you there in that the first Terminator still has the edge, but T2 is pretty much almost on par (it’s a bit like Alien and Aliens in that respect).

      Glad to hear you mention the Sarah Connor Chronicles, although I enjoyed Dark Fate I still consider that short-lived tv series the best sequel to Cameron’s films. I’m planning on doing a retrospective on SCC once I get around to rewatching it, hopefully later this year (so much else to watch at the moment!).

  3. I loved both T1 & T2! Linda Hamilton was so bad-ass and the sequels without her were terrible. While Dark Fate was far from perfect (I’m still salty about what happened to John), it was wonderful seeing Hamilton again.

    • They’re both bona-fide classics for sure and just like Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films, Linda Hamilton was a big part of the successes of T1 & T2.

      I enjoyed Dark Fate myself, despite the controversies…the best sequel to the James Cameron films though is still the ‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ tv series with Lena Headey as Sarah!

  4. An absolutely brilliant sequel indeed! I remember watching reruns of this as a kid and being 100% scared of T-1000. He just made for such a perfect villain. His “immortality” made it all even scarier. I definitely agree with you on all fronts here. I can’t think of a single bad thing about this movie. Everyone nailed their roles, the cinematography and score were brilliant, the story builds on the first one and makes for a perfect movie. Awesome classic revisit, my friend! This did remind me that I still need to watch the last movie that came out… Despite your thoughts on it, I’m still not convinced it will be worth the time hahaha At least it’s free on various services now!

    • I remember seeing T2 being advertised on TV when it was coming out and was super excited…but alas I was too young to see it in the cinema so had to wait for the VHS. I also remember that summer, my Dad got special T2 t-shirts printed for us (even though I couldn’t actually see the film yet).

      Honestly, Dark Fate is a good enough watch. I liked it more than most, but concede it’s a bit more of the same and doesn’t do anything revolutionary…but better than the other T2 sequels for sure. Still doesn’t beat the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series though!

  5. Interesting and well written reviews. I agree, it is one of the best sequels.

    Thanks for writing about the dream sequence scene. I had no idea such a scene had been filmed.

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