Terminator 2 manages to increase the stakes to create an iconic successor to the original. It manages to weave a story about family, through a relentless mixture of explosions, set-pieces and brutal fight scenes. Beneath that brutal exoskeleton, lies a human core.
It’s easy to forget how revered the early Terminator films were. Their existence has been tarnished to the point that the latest release, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), erased everything after 1991’s Terminator 2. With T2, Writer-Director James Cameron managed to find a formula which increased the stakes to create an iconic successor to the original.
The film’s success owes much to the introduction of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 as the antagonist. It’s an upgrade in almost every way to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic T-800 model. Part of the film’s genius is in subverting audience expectation, having spent the first film pursuing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), Schwarzenegger’s Terminator now serves as protector to John Connor (Edward Furlong).
You have to wonder if the machines should have perhaps avoided all the hassle of sending a Terminator back in time and simply allowed John Connor to grow up under the care of his Foster parents. As we’re introduced to John’s turbulent life in foster care, we find that he’s been using the survival skills previously imparted by his mother Sarah for petty crime. The instability implies a life on the edge, where if not for the T-1000, then the law would likely catch up to him sooner than later.
Still, despite his fractious relationship with his foster parents, we get an insight into what makes John a future leader. After being saved by the T-800, he attempts to warn them of the T-1000’s advances. The scene’s simplicity belies its importance, as we know full well the terrors that await them, just as we know how deadbeat they are. This is the type of leader the machines will grow to fear. It’s an effective method of showing why the machines of the future are going to all this trouble.
That trouble emphasized by numerous set-pieces and action which holds up almost thirty years later. Patrick’s T-1000 is terrifying in its relentless pursuit of the Connors. Each movement precise, each stride deliberate, and whilst the same can be said of the T-800 – John’s humanity helps us empathize with it. You can feel the physicality of every battle between Patrick and Schwarzenegger, but each fight remains underpinned by intelligence. We’re left in no doubt that these machines are utterly aware of their surroundings, and three steps ahead, not just reliant on their strength.
The theme of family resonates throughout T:2, as Sarah recognizes that the T-800 might yet be the best father figure to prepare John for the future. Watching their bond transform as the film progresses grants us the necessary respite from the T-1000’s merciless pursuit. It allows the characters moments of reflection which grant the kind of depth that’s sorely lacking from future films.
Terminator 2 manages to survive the test of time because at it’s core, it’s a story about family – about a mum trying to reconnect with her son and about a son who’s never had a proper father figure. Cameron delivers the story alongside standout set-pieces, stunning special effects and perfectly choreographed fight scenes which manage to preserve the film’s reputation as one of the best sequels of all time.