Ah, James Cameron. Your track record with sequels has served you well. Not only did you somehow turn the successor to one of cinema’s most original horror films into an entertaining action epic in the form of Aliens, but you crafted an heir to your own sci-fi masterpiece 7 years on that redefined filmmaking altogether. Argue all you like, but Terminator 2: Judgement Day is far superior to the original in my not-so-bionic eyes.
That’s of course not to say the first film is unlikeable; far from it. Rather, it’s what T2 does with its pre-existing characters and established diagesis that make it vastly more engaging. The ingenious twist of having the T-800 Terminator, portrayed brilliantly by the fittingly deadpan Arnold Schwarzenegger, act as an ally was something audiences were never teased at during the film’s marketing, and ol’ Arnie really shines by working off a young John Connor. The latter is also a great addition to the franchise’s lore, as we only got brief glimpses of his adult (and foetus) counterpart in the previous film. 14-year-old Edward Furlong’s acting debut always comes to mind when debating the finest big screen child performances.
"The ingenious twist of having the T-800 Terminator act as an ally was something audiences were never teased at during the film’s marketing"
Perhaps the best revision is Sarah Connor, who you’ll now find atop the majority of greatest female action hero lists thanks to this film. Stricken with PTSD since her previous encounter with Skynet, Connor is far more sympathetic and complex as a character; we learn refreshingly in-depth about the titular ‘judgement day’, August 29th 1997, and her tormented nightmares of the end of mankind are truly disturbing to behold. She’s tough yet vulnerable, authoritative yet maternal, strategic yet overemotional. Her character arc over the course of the narrative, in learning to be a true mother to John and ultimately working alongside those she distrusts to save humanity, is the crux that holds the entire film together.
Naturally, T2 doesn’t solely rely on its predecessor’s foundations to create a great action movie experience. The CGI work done for the T-1000 is outstanding for the time (projecting reflections onto 3D animation was apparently undoable prior to this) and still holds up fairly well today. Action sequences come at you so fast that it’s hard to choose an outright favourite. The helicopter chase, Sarah’s escape from the hospital, the finale in the steel mill perhaps? All of it is brilliantly choreographed and makes good use of that $102 million budget.
Though the original rightfully holds its place in cinema history, the legacy of Terminator 2 is one that, personally, should reign supreme. Let’s just pretend Rise of the Machines didn’t happen. Or Salvation. Or Genisys. Screw it, just reset the timeline again.