Well, he said he’d be back. It’s a portentous title to a portentous film by the world’s most portentous film-maker, but it is teeth-rattling fun from the end to the beginning (see what I did there?).
In Cameron’s follow up to his cult hit of 1984, Schwarzenegger’s terminator 800 has been sent back in time from a possible future by John Conner, who was a mere-embryo in the first film but he has grown up to be a freedom fighter in the war against the machines which is played out on a building-site somewhere outside of Salford. The robots of the future have sent a souped-up version of the terminator in a time machine to hunt down and kill the 12 year old John Conner (Edward Furlong) before he can cause any damage in their manic plot to eliminate humanity from the planet. T-1000, the new version, is slicker, more agile and able to shape-shift when he isn’t power-mincing in one of the Village People’s police uniforms. Robert Patrick’s graceful feline presence as T-1000 is a chilling nemesis to Arny’s clunky, stiff-moving T- 800.
Dom-Dirk is damning the film with faint praise when he refers to it as an expensive “remake of The Terminator with better effects”. I contend that in many ways this film was as much a ‘game-changer’ to the action film in the 1990s as STAR WARS was to the 1970s and beyond. Consider the elements that have set the template for blockbusters ever since: it formed the centre of multi-platform video-game spin-offs (I fondly remember the Game Boy version); it was less about being a star vehicle and more about the effects; the budget was astronomical to support its corporate staffing levels yet it was an ‘indy film’; and it was an early example of developing ‘the franchise’.
The film had a broader appeal than the first, not least because the earlier film had discovered an audience in the home video market. By this time Arny had become a household name and was already beginning to look a parody of himself. In the 1980s his films had grossed 1 billion dollars and he was a global super-brand, but there were too few notes in his repertoire and despite his best efforts at reaching out for irony in THE LAST ACTION HERO (1993), the age of the monolithic muscle hero was coming to an end; they were expendable, if you will. T2, as it become to be known, reflected the moribund feel to the action-hero genre and it was the first to build upon the idea that with CGI enhancements franchises could do well at the box office by using relatively unknown actors.
At the time of its release it was the most expensive film ever made, costing 13 times the budget of the original. It was financed outside of the studio system by Carolco (who would go on to produce such classics as SHOWGIRLS) because the studios were too nervous about the technology and the risk implied by Cameron’s pitch: “the first action movie advocating world peace”.
The opening sequence of a thermo-nuclear explosion atomising a playground is breath-taking and the pace is unremitting (apart from a lull in the middle, when they are in the desert) with some brilliantly inventive set pieces (busting Sarah Conner from jail is my personal favourite). Edward Furlong’s Bart Simpson schtick is a little wearing and has dated quicker than the special effects which still hold up well given the ‘liquid-metal’ is a distinctly early adopter of the CGI blight that has ruined films ever since. We have become immured to devastation that seems so imaginative here, yet looks so boring in recent action blockbusters, where eye-popping spectacle is so overly used that it appears mundane (cf THOR (2010))
There have been two further sequels, a theme-park experience and a television series with more films in development hell. Cameron sold the rights for a dollar. Lucas has sold his for billions. The franchise revival has also become a matter of course that potential sequels are more likely to garner a groan by the audience rather than a sense of excitement. Star Wars episode 7, anyone? It’ll be back, but TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY supports my continuing thesis that the second of any series is usually the best.