UPDATE: Given the current state of my wrist I had to use dictation software to write this piece. It is a godawful mess and there will be frequent updates as I unfuck this. If you find it incomprehensible check back later. I’m only posting it now because I promised you I would.
2ND UPDATE: Final edits are done (probably).
Whatever Faustian bargain James Cameron seems to have made for his early mega successes with The Terminator and Aliens came due with The Abyss. Despite positive reviews and a pretty decent story, the film was an abject disaster at the box office.
If there’s one thing that Hollywood loves more than overnight riches, it’s a meteoric fall. The wolves were scratching at James Cameron’s door. Everyone was wondering, was this guy just one or two hit wonder? At that point in his career, Cameron needed someone who was willing to roll the dice on a guy who just had the biggest flop since Heavens Gate.
And luckily for him the two biggest whales of the 1980s had just acquired the sequel rights to The Terminator. Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna owned Carolco pictures, these are the guys that made the biggest hits of the 1980s and the biggest bombs of the 1990s. Carolco pictures business model (if such it can be called), was to make the occasional mega-hit money volcano with a lot of pretentious (and over priced) indie bombs in between, all of which was held together by some legendary financial legerdemain. It has to be said they had a talent for spotting a boxoffice legends like; Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Stargate and the Rambo trilogy. But they also produced a lot more quickly forgotten films like Angel Heart, and Extreme Prejudice. I think their biggest problem was that they wanted Hollywood’s respect, consequently, they would overpay to produce the art-house pictures, and count on the megahits to keep the cameras rolling and the paychecks flying. That worked for fifteen years until they had two studio-busting ultra- bombs in a row, Showgirls, and the epic box office catastrophe Cutthroat Island, which finally sank Carolco Pictures.
However, in 1989 their system was still working just fine. So well, in fact that they had signed Arnold Schwarzenegger to a ten picture contract. In retrospect, he was paid an absurd amount of money but at the time it was looking like a steal.
James Cameron who had had no interest at all in doing a sequel to the Terminator suddenly didn’t about-face. Deciding that yes indeed, there were more ideas that could be explored in this universe.
Consequently, Cameron set to work writing up a script for that rarest of things a sequel that was better than the original (or at least it was pretty rare in the 1980s).
Film opens with the late lamented Carolco pictures emblem. We fade into a rush-hour traffic scene in L.A. then switch to children playing in a playground while Sarah Connor recounts the end of the world which took place on August 17th, 1997, (as opposed to November 4th, 2008 when it actually happened). Next, we hard cut to the same locations but after a nuclear war has taken place. When we first saw these scenes they were in daylight but now it is night. We see we see burnt skeletons behind the wheels of the burnt-out hulks of their cars. Then the twisted and broken the playground equipment where we had just seen children playing moments before. These locations are now a battleground as the human resistance begins their final battle against Skynet.
This scene raised quite a few questions for the professional military man in me. This army was called “the resistance” but to my eye, they appeared to be hardcore regulars. They had matching uniforms they knew how to salute, (even if doing that in a combat zone is a pretty stupid idea). It was not a mob of half-ass ragamuffins. Clearly, they had resources and an industrial base which presupposes they had safe zones where they ran an economy of their own that skynet couldn’t significantly impact. Where were these things? *
Regardless, we get our first and only scene of John Connor as the battle-scarred Supreme commander of the human “resistance.” And it was the only time he ever looked the part in this entire franchise.
The opening credits roll, we see the playground for a third time only this time it is being in flames as the apocalypse that Skynet launched encompasses the world. We also hear a much better version of the Terminator theme from the first movie, it actually sounds good when it’s played by an orchestra instead of on a crappy 80s synthesizer.
When the credits are done we get the first of our callbacks to the original movie. A much less buff Arnold’s arrival scene is pretty much identical to the first movie in broad strokes but this time it is suffused with late 80s CGI. While I realize it was the absolute best that could be done at the time, it’s a bit jarring to see something that primitive now. It didn’t quite take me out of the story but there is no wow factor today either.
At this point, the audience doesn’t know why the T- 800 is there. It’s natural to assume that he is on the same mission that his predecessor was on. And that he will begin hunting John Connor or Sarah Connor or both.
Schwarzenegger walks bare-ass naked into a biker bar, gets admiring glances from the biker bar waitresses, and selects the victim that’s going to turn over his leathers to him. Fight scene ensues that has a number of severe injuries but no actual fatalities. So now the audience gets its first hint that something has changed from the first movie.
Time to get caught up with Sarah. A much more buff Linda Hamilton s doing the kind of pull-ups on an improvised bar that any WM would envy. Quick cut to the psychiatrist from the first movie, who left the police station just as Arnold walked in He’s come up in the world quite a bit and appears to be teaching at a university psychiatric clinic. It would seam that Sarah is one of his star attractions. A brief tête-à-têt establishes their relationship a polite but hostile on both sides.
We are also introduced to the character that I am now referring to as Gamma Guard. By now a more mature Cameron was playing to his strengths which are visuals. One look at the guy and you know he’s going to do something creepy eventually. The slight potbelly the overly rounded cheeks and the big truncheon prominently displayed on his hip. Gamma male wasn’t even a term or anything near one when this was made, yet there was no doubt at all that that’s what this guy was. And Cameron did that with just a shot of him.
Finally, we are introduced to the savior of humanity. John Connor. AND OH GOD I STILL WANT TO PUNCH HIM IN THE FUCKING FACE!!! James Cameron found Edward Furlong after an extensive search, in an L.A. Boys Club. A lot of people blame Hollywood for where Furlong wound up, but I’m telling you I’ve known kids like that and he was always going to arrive where he found himself one day, he just did it using a lot more money than he would have had otherwise.
While visuals are Cameron’s strength, then dialogue has always been his Achilles Heel. Perhaps if Eddie had had an innate roguish charm his terrible lines might have worked. But as it was, the audience ended up desperately wanting to kick this kid in the teeth. Even knowing full well that it was coming; the scene where John Connor teaches his Terminator how to cop an attitude with people still made my molars grind.
And the bad part was it would have been a pretty simple fix. A Save the Cat scene shortly after we meet the kid would have made the audience sympathetic towards him. I think Cameron was counting on making it obvious that the boy had had it rough to do that job for him. And it doesn’t work like that. The character has to do something to make the audience like him. As a what-if for instance; right after John Connor robs the ATM have the bum from the first movie yells out, “the son of a bitch stole my pants!” The old guy is clearly not there in the head because he is wearing pants. But John takes pity on him, peels off half his wad of stolen cash and gives it to the guy. It would have been a nice Easter egg for the audience, knowing that it was John’s father who had stolen the old bum’s pants in the first place.
So anyway, we have the first fight scene between Arnold and the T1000. Robert Patrick while nowhere near as physically imposing as Schwarzenegger in the first movie did proved to have an intensity that allowed him to carry his role in the film as the new antagonist. And it has to be said the man worked hard for his audience share. Whether from Patrick’s penetrating charisma or Cameron’s expert direction, the fight scene between the two machines seemed believable, despite the two men being drastically mismatched in size.
After a damn good chase sequence. We get an exposition scene where the Arnold-Bot brings John Connor up to speed on both his mission and the capabilities of the T1000. The audience now knows the rules and what’s at stake.
Sarah’s informed by the police that the terrorist that shot up the police station in the first movie is back in town (at least so far as they are concerned). Sarah remains oddly quiet during the police interview and is then taken back to her cell, where she is briefly molested by Gamma Guard. This was an excellent example of Cameron’s acute attention to detail. The character of the guard was well established. The truncheon that Sarah will steal and use as a weapon was prominently displayed during his time on screen. And thanks to the creepy thing, the audience is on her side when she beats the living shit out of him. If Cameron hadn’t done that you would have felt some sympathy for the guard is just being a guy who was doing his job.
I also really liked the little skipping start to her run that Linda Hamilton just as she began her escape. It was a little touch that said, I’m back in action and ready for what comes next.
The tension leading up to this extended action sequence was expertly escalated. I’d forgotten about Sarah experiencing the nightmare sequence when she runs into the T800 for the first time in this movie. Time seemed to slow down for her as this creature out of her worst dreams is now in front of her again and she reacts with absolute terror at the sight of him.
This was also the last we would see of the psychiatrist Doctor Silberman in this movie, however as he was one of only three survivors of these events his character was used in various Terminator other projects.
Like any decent roller coaster, there are straightaways where the action slows down before the excitement builds again. So, it’s off to Mexico for Sarah and her “fam.” She digs up an arsenal and then decides that Mecha-Arnold is the perfect choice to be a father for her child and she heads off to kill the man she thinks is responsible for the apocalypse; Miles Bennett Dyson.
The assassination attempt on Dyson was kind of interesting. Once again it highlighted Cameron’s attention to detail. I think Schwarzenegger’s blinking in the first movie whenever he filed his weapon really bothered him because Linda Hamilton doesn’t blink once during her attack on Dyson (neithet did Robert Patrick now that I think of it). I also found it an intriguing role shift for her because now she was the remorseless killing machine coming for someone who has no idea why anyone would want to kill him.
Her son and the T 800 arrive and talk Sarah down off that cliff’s edge. Once things are explained to Dyson he agrees to help them blow up his place of employment. Well, it was the 90s, the economy was good, he probably figured he wouldn’t have any trouble finding a decent job.
Cyberdyne gets blown up good, real good. Arnold finally gets to fire that catastrophically stupid minigun that he fell in love with during Predator’s filming.
Then it’s off to the steel mill for the final confrontation With the indestructible but not unmeltable T1000. The Arnold-Bot heroically sacrifices himself as a true expression Of his newly gained sentience. **
Sarah and John drive off into the night. The End. ***
So does it still hold up?
Unlike the previous Terminator movie The answer to that is, yes. An emphatic yes at that.
Did it have some problems? Of course, it did but these were problems I knew about when I first saw the film in the theater. The CGI effects were the only thing that was slightly problematic to modern tastes. The worst of the potential problems there were negated by the T1000’s metallic appearance.
But it’s pluses easily outweigh the minuses.
One of intriguing things (as one of my commenters pointed out) was the T-1000’s clinical fascination with the process of death. When he killed someone he would (if time allowed) take time to study its effects. Raising the question of; was he learning himself and where would that have taken him? He finally displayed a very unmachine like reaction by wagging a naughty-naughty finger at Sarah, indicating that things had just gotten personal for the first time in his short life.
This was the second, and sadly, the last of Cameron’s Mama-Bear movies.
This is another film that absolutely could not be made today. Not just because there were a ton of practical special effects that would be far too expensive to shoot today but also the character of Sarah Connor. Her B-story in this movie was Sarah finding her way back to motherhood. John had been loved but his importance to the future was drastically more important than that to her. He was a high value asset that had to be protected at all costs. However, during the final fight at the steel mill, she was fighting with a mother’s fury against someone that was trying to harm her child. That was her driving force at the end.
And that is a heresy beyond words to the Woke.
Okay, I’m done here.
*The best answer I could come up with was, in space. That raised a whole bunch of other questions but none of them were ever going to be answered. Although, it would have been a pretty interesting story in its own right. Certainly a hell of a lot better than Terminator Salvation.
** If they had kept him around, Terminator Dark Fate might have had a happier beginning. I had no real interest in that film at all when it came out. But after watching T-2 again, holy crap! I hate the fuck out of it..
*** How I wish that Cameron had gone with his original ending.
It wouldn’t have stopped the godawful sequels. T-2 made way too much money for their not to be any sequels. But at least they would have been forced to start from from someplace a little better.