Friday, 26 June 2015

Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

© Artisan Entertainment | Source: kinoweb

USA, France; 137 min.; action, sci-fi, drama
Director: James Cameron
Writing: James Cameron, William Wisher
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Castulo Guerra, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley

“No, no, no, no! You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say ‘affirmative’ or some shit like that. You say ‘No problemo’. And if someone comes up to you with an attitude, you say ‘Eat me’. And if you wanna shine them on, it’s ‘Hasta la vista, baby’.” 
-- John Connor  

Remember the time when Edward Furlong was still young and full of promise? Those were the days back in 1991 when the then 14-year-old achieved childhood stardom as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cheeky sidekick and, well, the future saviour of humanity. In the role of John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day – or T2, as we robot-savvy people like to call it – Furlong is one of the main reasons why the sequel to The Terminator (1984) is an even more satisfying movie experience than the predecessor.

The outline looks quite familiar. Due to her belief that machines will try to wipe out the human race in a future war, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) resides in a psychiatric ward with no hope of ever being released. Her teenage son John is in the custody of foster parents and, once again, in mortal danger. The T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a new kind of cyborg assassin, is sent from the future in order to terminate the rebel-leader-to-be. A reprogrammed version of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) also travels through time to protect John and his mother, and to prevent the eventual rise of the machines.

While the first part comes across as a raw and gritty diamond, I think that the second part, also directed by James Cameron, appears polished up in all the right places. The all-encompassing gloom and hopelessness are replaced by a more subtle yet effective apocalyptic mood. Burning playgrounds, sterile hospital hallways and hot desert landscapes convey an atmosphere of human coldness and foreshadow the end of civilisation. The fast-paced and dynamic action sequences known from part one are now more in number, staged on a higher scale and savoured to the full extent. With guns blazing and trucks, cars, bikes and even helicopters crashing, action fans are certain to get their money’s worth.

The greatest improvement for me, though, is how the characters develop and interact throughout the film. While The Terminator focuses on thrill and action, T2 offers a much desired inter-human balance. The relationship between Sarah and John feels authentic under the circumstances. The way in which they manage to support and protect each other subtly shows their temperamental as well as loving connection. The heart of the film, however, is John’s interaction with the T-800. Regarding the gruff robot as a kind of surrogate father, the young Connor makes it his mission to teach it all kinds of human mannerisms. From hip phrases and gestures to ethical matters – it really is a joy to watch John and the T-800 become friends in midst of all the deadly chaos. Fortunately, Cameron never makes the mistake to let his cyborg hero appear too human. While it may quickly apprehend complex forms of human interaction, it always remains a programmed piece of metal underneath. By maintaining the human-robot divide, the film allows for a discourse on our affinity with and emotional reliance on technological gadgets.

I love the chemistry between Furlong and Schwarzenegger, but they also manage to hold their grounds individually. The latter is, once again, perfectly stoic and utterly convincing as a machine among people. Now that his character has turned from villain to hero, he is endowed with a more extensive bunch of humorous episodes, one of the most memorable ones probably being his attempt to learn how to crack a heartfelt smile. With T2 being his debut film, Furlong shows that right from the beginning of his career, he is capable of carrying a film. He delivers comedy, emotion and the mental as well as physical strength necessary to make him look convincing as a future war hero.

Hamilton is my personal highlight. Buff and relentless, she has turned into a warrior woman willing to do everything it takes to save her son and the rest of humanity. However, underneath all her toughness, she has to come to terms with the loss of her own humanity while fighting the terror of the machines. Hamilton’s no-bullshit portrayal is strong, yet fragile. It’s embittered and shaken, and certainly constitutes one of her finest performances to date.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day balances action with comedy, drama, amiable characters, great performances and social commentary. It thus manages to deliver even better than the original Terminator film. Edward Furlong’s fresh and unspent take on John Connor is still fun to watch today. Considering how alcohol and substance abuse have wrecked his life and career during the past years, I bet the actor would love the opportunity to follow in his film buddy’s footsteps and, like the T-800, travel back to 1991 when life was still auspicious and the world at his feet ready to be saved.


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