Directed By: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Tag line: "This time he's back...for good!"
Trivia: For agreeing to appear in this film, Arnold Schwarzenegger was given a $12 million Gulfstream III business jet
For my friend John and I, the release of a new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie used to be an event. Beginning with Predator in 1987, we made sure we caught all of the actor’s movies on the big screen, and had a blast with every damn one of them (The Running Man and Total Recall were particularly entertaining). The best of the bunch, however, was 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron’s sequel to his 1984 film, The Terminator. Featuring groundbreaking special effects, Terminator 2 was an action-packed extravaganza that, even today, is one of the most exciting sci-fi flicks ever produced.
Following an unsuccessful bid to blow up a computer manufacturing plant, Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), who survived her encounter with the futuristic assassin in the first Terminator film, is committed to an insane asylum. As a result, her teenage son, John (Edward Furlong), the future leader of humanity, becomes a ward of the state, and is sent to live with foster parents Todd (Xander Berkeley) and Janelle (Jenette Goldstien). Convinced his mother is insane, John has a change of heart when he comes face-to-face with two killing machines from the future: one (Robert Patrick) out to destroy him, the other (Schwarzenegger) trying to protect him. After breaking Sarah out of the asylum, John and his new bodyguard attempt to track down Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a scientist whose work would eventually lead to the creation of Skynet and, ultimately, the end of civilization. The problem, of course, is that they’re also being hunted by a T-1000, a more advanced terminator whose sole mission is to eliminate John Conner, thus clearing the way for machines to take over the earth.
After trying to kill Sarah Conner in The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in Terminator 2 as one of the good guys, sent by the future John Conner to protect his past self. Yet, despite switching sides, the actor brings the same icy cold determination to the role that he did in the first film, playing the T-800 as a humorless automaton ready to blow anyone other than John Conner away. The teenager does what he can to to prevent his heavily-armed bodyguard from killing indiscriminately, but with limited success (in one of the movie’s funnier scenes, the T-800 shoots a security guard in the legs. When a bewildered John Conner, who had just ordered him not to kill any more, looks on in disapproval, the T-800 says, matter-of-factly, “He’ll live”).
Yet as bad-ass as Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is, his opponent, the T-1000, is the real force to be reckoned with. Made of a substance best described as “liquid metal”, the T-1000 can change its appearance to resemble anyone it’s come into contact with, and can even transform parts of its body into deadly weapons (it demonstrates both of these abilities in an early scene with John’s foster parents). What’s more, the liquid metal makes the T-1000 impervious to bullets; a shotgun blast to the face only slows it down for a minute. The revolutionary special effects that Cameron and his crew employed to bring the T-1000 to life, though more commonplace today, were something to behold in 1991, taking what was already a cool concept to the next level while, at the same time, giving our heroes an adversary that was virtually indestructible.
Throw in some adrenaline-fueled chase scenes (the best of which involves a tractor-trailer) and a tough-as-nails performance by Linda Hamilton, and you have a sci-fi / action hybrid that’s second to none. In later years, James Cameron would direct the two highest-grossing motion pictures of all-time (1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar), yet, for me, Terminator 2: Judgment Day will always be his crowning achievement.