Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the celebrated sequel to the 1984 sci-fi hit, The Terminator, proved to be an intensely absorbing action and science-fiction masterpiece, a sequel worthy of being known as one of the greatest movie sequels of all time, surpassing the original in all departments, which is no mean feat. It cemented James Cameron’s position on the pedestal of sci-fi blockbuster filmmaking in the 1980s and ’90s and added a big feather to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cap as one of the premier action stars of those decades. However, there is no way a 10-year-old can grasp these facts. Therefore, this acclaim was incidental to me when I first saw it, since it was the film’s undeniable rollercoaster of storytelling and action that framed a new benchmark in my imagination. That cinematic journey and its timeless feelings cap T2 as my favourite action film of all time.
For the uninitiated, the film revolves around two androids sent back in time, fighting over the lives of the troubled foster kid who will become humanity’s last hope against the machines, and his mother, battle-hardened by the events of the 1984 indie-roots first film, The Terminator.
The film was first and foremost a crowning achievement for the use of plot-driven visual effects and C.G.I. in cinema. T2’s effects have aged better than many of its contemporaries and are even better than some of today’s mindless work. James Cameron and the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, along with the practical genius of Stan Winston, combined to showcase a fluidity in the liquid-metal T-1000 villain. His destructive moments tested the maximum limit for my tension, as those images provided some of my first hands-over-eyes moments in film. The gooey visions of him rising from tiles, forming metal weapons and re-coalescing are some of the most vivid sequences I had the pleasure to let be burnt into my memory.
The visuals were given further gravitas by capable stars who knew to treat the material seriously. Prior to this, my concept of action came from battles in bloodless comic-books and cheery Indian fables. T2 was the first film to provide an array of bloody sequences of physical and gun violence, and, as a kid in those days, being exposed to it helped me develop an understanding of how much human bodies could or could not endure, and a mental framework for how to follow story beats within dangerous sequences. As a kid, I did not have the patience to respect the capabilities of stuntmen, and therefore the cast became cornerstone actors, establishing basic rules of charisma and physical stature, as well as showcasing an indomitable spirit in the action genre, for me.
The first experience of Arnie throwing catchphrases, establishing control in situations without violence, and defending innocents defined the coolness quotient for a generation. The proud warrior mindset of a mother, in the feral Linda Hamilton, gave me my first look at a skilled and sinewy action heroine capable of wrecking mayhem to protect her kin. Edward Furlong, as the future Resistance leader, capable of riding a bike, stealing money, and making a robot affectionate, was the epitome of a rebellious and sarcastic teenager, the highs of which pre-teen first-time viewers would always hope to chase someday, as I did. Even Robert Patrick as the menacing and expressionless T-1000, was a novel detestable character, insofar as being the first no-nonsense, objective-oriented killing machine without compassion, which was unimaginable to an overly empathetic kid’s mind, like mine.
The script by James Cameron and William Wisher was tightly wound around a complex plot. However, at that young age, being able to understand an emotionally honest confluence of unique action, a classic background score and a humanity quotient helped me to unify the film’s themes of family and trust among humans and machines. There was also a self-awareness of the potential danger humans may face from delving deeper and deeper into needless technological solutionism in the name of increasing levels of ease. In many subsequent viewings over the years, I became clearer on the time-travel hijinks of the plot, but as a kid, the simple possibility of remaking time to do good hit at the core of what I could perceive as forbidden and yet necessary, which only made it more exciting. This may seem heavy stuff for a kid to make his way through, but T2 proved accessible to this young child’s hitherto unexplored awareness of the ramifications of a civilisation ensuring and then preventing its own destruction, through a cyborg which can feel increasingly like a human.
The effects-driven action, the pacy plot and the gunfights may not have suited everyone’s tastes, but it is not hard to imagine why T2 became an action juggernaut and a transcendent piece of pop-culture, which, of course, meant that it became timeless. As for me, the words “pop-culture” and “zeitgeist” were foreign in 2002. Watching it on TV then, I simply understood that I was watching something undefinably awesome. For me, popular culture is defined by a collective experience of feelings towards innumerable cultural touchstones that affect the populace on a primal level. I became a part of that collective when that primality hit me, watching Arnie raise that thumbs-up as he sacrificed himself to ensure humanity’s existence. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was an epic action spectacle, an unmatched sequel, a foundation for VFX filmmaking, a catchphrase delivery mechanism for its evergreen stars, a time-travel wish-fulfilment scenario. But for me, it was a kids’ movie. And watching it again on Netflix, where it is available now, I became a wide-eyed kid again.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.