Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Alright, here’s your one warning: This is a sequel. To a massively popular blockbuster movie. That came out decades ago. If you haven’t seen it, it really is time to get that done.
Because I hadn’t before today. Oops. I’ll explain why.
Watch it and meet me back here. It’s spoilers all the way down.
Before we plunge into my pesky time travel sticklerism, I have to hand it to James Cameron for managing to still surprise us right from the beginning. When the movie first opens (and Jesus, stop reading if you haven’t watched this), we see Arnold and some other Kyle Reese-ish dude warp into existence, and our brains say, “Ah, yes, begin the time-honored dance that is More of the Same, sequel.” Which is why the scene with these two chrono-rivals aiming down a hallway at each other, with little John Connor (Edward Furlong) caught in the middle, should give your brain multiple orgasms.
Thirty minutes may seem short for a Terminator sequel, but what a finale!
Unfortunately, this is the first entry in the franchise where the time travel starts to get pretty screwy. I’ll keep it brief, but it all comes down to, once again, knowing your timeline rules. The first Terminator doesn’t fuck around, though Kyle and Sarah do; it’s an immutable timeline, where any trip to the past has always been a part of history. This means there is no such thing as changing the future. John Connor will always have been born and grow up to fight the evil machines. Case closed.
First tactical maneuver: embarrass the machine with wacky hijinks.
Now, the battle plan in T2 is to straight-up stop Skynet from existing, and there isn’t any clever twist like “oh, whoa, in trying to destroy Skynet, they created Skynet, oooh.” No, they succeed in a big way, but the film wisely ends in present day, so it retains the same ambiguity as the last movie’s climax. If you want to get technical, even though they’ve changed history as dictated to them by the Terminator, nothing has yet been temporally violated. We don’t see Arnold go through a ripple effect or suddenly remember a new future. For all we know, historians simply recorded events wrong.
Don’t worry, T3 vigorously buttfucks all the subtlety out of it.
Wait, I mean, DO worry.
They even toy with the idea of a bootstrap paradox, implying that Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) invented the program that will be Skynet based on the leftover Terminator arm that only exists because of Skynet, etc. etc. Now, I respected them for then proceeding to blow the everloving fuck out of Cyberdyne, eliminating the bootstrap, but then I waited for them to reveal how Skynet inevitably still comes to be… and got nothing. I was really hoping for some twisty cleverness on the level of the first movie and all I got was a fast-paced, visually impressive action flick that kicks every ass in sight.
Wait, I mean, fuck yes, but I’m still slightly bitter about the story. We’ll chat about it in that “Bill is Still Bitter” section down below. On to the acting!
Oh, come on, keep giving Arnold a break.
You wanna tell this guy he’s a bad actor?
His performance remains the same (as it should, because robot), but his role has changed. That’s what makes him so interesting to watch; he’s now a father figure to young John, but he still talks like the same murder machine. Goddammit, stop being so brilliant, sequel.
Your mileage may vary on lil’ Johnny Connor, but gaaah, stab my ears with a rusty fork. He’s high-pitched and whiny and a child, three things I can’t stand. Sure, he’s not exactly a Scrappy Doo, but his essence seems to have been forged from a dark sorcery known as the Nineties.
Super Soaker + Sega + Simpsons = that haircut.
Linda Hamilton has elevated her “mother of the resistance” role to almost self-parody. She’s a completely different character, understandably, but it doesn’t help that other people in the movie seem to always be commenting on how intense she is. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting take on a fractured, survivalist Sarah Connor.
“I seen some things…”
Joe Morton is essentially the Hitler who doesn’t know he’s Hitler in our time travel tale, and he smartly plays it straight. I can see a lot of shitty actors trying to throw in a snarl or give off that “victim of child abuse” vibe simply because he’s Da Bad Guy, but he just comes across like a friendly neighbor who happens to make weapons.
“I was just programming commands…”
You can claim that Robert Patrick was cast solely for his ability to make this face…
…but also, look at that face.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Nothing short of incredible, but let’s start with the time travel before we get to the goopy stuff. In the last movie, you barely saw the magic bubble. Here, you get to watch it leave little burn marks on trucks and fences. Neat. As always, there’s plenty of lightning, but the bubble itself does look a little cheesy.
Whoa, Glinda is pissed.
Also, Sarah Connor has a dream about Judgment Day, when everything goes ka-blooie, and it will tear your damn face off.
But, you know where this is going… liquid metal.
It looks so good because they blended real, practical effects with just enough CGI to blow your mind out your butthole, a technique that many ’90s movies understood, but has sadly been lost today. And the same applies to the real-world stunts.
Name one CGI scene this awesome. Just one.
BILL IS STILL BITTER:
- A certain colleague of mine who shall remain nameless likes to point out that this movie, like Deja Vu, could actually be temporally solid if it were, in fact, utilizing the third kind of time travel: alternate timelines. Yeah, it could be absolutely true that Kyle Reese went back in time to make John Connor, following instructions from a different universe’s John Connor that just happened to be fathered by a different universe’s Kyle Reese, and all these alternate Sarah Connors had the exact same photograph taken of them… come on, possible or not, why would I give a fuck about that set of events? Shorthand, they didn’t use their time travel well from a narrative standpoint, and it’s quicker to say “they fucked up” than “it hinges on an astronomically ridiculous stack of coincidences.” Either case is bad writing, plain and simple. When Star Trek used alternate time travel for story purposes, it was deliberate and good, and I hate giving that movie too many compliments. Arguing alternate timelines in T2, however, is just stretching.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Baby John Connor gets deep about his dad while the Terminator tries to drown him out by fixing a truck…
“I sent him back through time to 1984. Man. He hadn’t even been born yet. It messes with your head.“
I waited to watch this movie because of Aliens. A lot of people claim Aliens is better than Alien, but I disagree, because I like a nice, thematic, self-contained story, and that’s what The Terminator is. Much like Aliens, Terminator 2 ups the action, but the story suffers a little. And unlike Aliens, it actually manages to weaken the events of the first installment. No, Judgment Day is not a movie that can be crapped on. While each new title in the series is a step down, T2 takes such a microscopic step that it doesn’t ultimately matter. The movie still kicks ass.
Especially compared to what’s on deck.
LATER THIS WEEK:
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.