Filmsite Movie Review
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is the well-executed, action-packed sequel to the earlier film of the same name. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator (cyborg) character of the first film, The Terminator (1984) told everyone: "I'll be back" - and proved it with this film. The film explored issues of fate, responsibility, loyalty, and the essences of humanity.

The sequel reunited director James Cameron and the two major stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, but the story reversed things from the original film. The screenplay was co-written by Cameron and William Wisher, and Cameron was responsible for both production and direction.

The R-rated film grossed $205.8 million (domestic), and was the highest grossing film of 1991. It acquired four Academy Awards (Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Effects Editing) from its six nominations. It was the only 'Terminator' film to be nominated for Academy Awards - and to win Oscar(s). It was also the first film in history to cost $100 million to produce (its actual production budget was $102 million). It was commonly noted that some of the special effects used the following year in the humorous black comedy Death Becomes Her (1992) were very similar - i.e., the shotgun hole blasted in Goldie Hawn's midriff. [Note: The comedy also won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.]

The sequel was made possible by Cameron's hugely successful blockbuster Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989). Unlike The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day would gross half its budget in its opening weekend, despite a running time of over two and a half hours, and end up making back twice its budget in the United States alone.

Its three major sequels included (see below):

  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) - director Jonathan Mostow
  • McG's Terminator Salvation (2009) - director McG
  • Terminator Genisys (2015) - director Alan Taylor, a reboot

The science-fiction blockbuster was known for its computer-generated special effects (created by George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic) and dazzling, non-stop action sequences. In the first film, the Terminator was stop-motion animated as an armature model unlike the second Terminator, that was a product of CGI (computer-generated imagery).

See Greatest Film Series Franchises:
The Terminator
Terminator Films
Time Frame
The Terminator (1984) Post-apocalyptic 2029 Los Angeles; an indestructible, invincible, inhuman android Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger) was sent back from the future year 2029 to 1984 to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who would one day be the mother of a son (an off-screen John Connor) who would lead a human Resistance movement-rebellion against the evil cyborg leaders of Earth's future. At first, the killing machine mistook other 'Sarah Connors' located in a Los Angeles telephone book for the real one and eliminated them. Another teleportation time traveler to 1984 was Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a nuclear holocaust survivor who volunteered for the future John Connor on an opposite quest to rescue and save innocent Sarah's life and ensure the conception and delivery of a son (who became a Resistance leader and his future boss!). He inadvertently fathered the child himself.

The low-budget film grossed $38 million (domestic), and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star; "I'll be back" became a popular catch-phrase.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Around the year 1994-1995; muscular warrior woman Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was now institutionalized after attempting to blow up Cyberdyne Systems, and for acting delusional and insane over thoughts of an apocalyptic Judgment Day, predicted for August 29, 1997. She was the single mother of rebellious John Connor (Edward Furlong), now a pre-teenager and foster child - and the child-savior of future humanity in a war with a deadly machine complex called SkyNet; the fatherless boy was threatened by a seemingly-indestructible, liquid-metal Terminator android named T-1000 (Robert Patrick) who had the uncanny ability to 'morph' his body into any solid shape, impersonate other persons and even camouflage himself with the background; an older model Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger) was sent from the future to protect him; the SkyNet labs were demolished to wipe out any trace of Terminator technology.

The R-rated film grossed $205.8 million (domestic), and was the highest grossing film of 1991. It acquired four Academy Awards (Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Effects Editing) from its six nominations.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) Set about 10 years after the events of the second film in the year 2004 in Los Angeles; Sarah Connor had died in 1997; twenty-something, post-apocalyptic leader John Connor (Nick Stahl) of the prophesied war against the machines was targeted by another Terminator or Terminatrix - an advanced sexy female named T-X (Kristanna Loken); he must again be protected by an outdated, monosyllabic, and obsolete T-101 (Schwarzenegger) from the future.

This sequel had a new director, writers, villains, and co-stars, with Schwarzenegger the sole returnee; the film grossed $149 million (domestically) on a budget of $200 million.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008) In sequence, this Fox TV series took place after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), with English actress Lena Headey as the title character, who made her entrance into the film stark naked on a LA freeway, ready to protect her teenaged son John (Thomas Dekker) and battle an army of revolutionary robots and other threats.
Terminator Salvation (2009) A prequel to The Terminator (1984), set in the post-apocalyptic year 2018 in Los Angeles, 34 years after the original. Although the film's prologue was in the year 2003, it set the stage for the main story in a post-apocalyptic California (Los Angeles) in the year 2018, 14 years after the nuclear attack (Judgment Day) in 2004 that ended the previous "Terminator" trilogy.

Older T-600 foot-soldier Terminators, controlled by the AI computer network named Skynet (with its central location in San Francisco), roamed the wasteland to combat the few remaining, beleaguered Resistance forces, heroically led by adult John Connor (Christian Bale) during the early days of the human Resistance - 11 years before Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the first Terminator. A death-row inmate, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), executed in the year 2003, came back to life in 2018, eventually revealing himself to be a human-machine hybrid created by Cyberdyne Systems and Skynet. Together, Connor and Wright infiltrated Skynet Central, where they battled a new, more formidable cyborg, the T-800.
Terminator Genisys (2015) Directed by Alan Taylor, this reboot film featured a new cast, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took the role of "The Guardian." The new cast members included Jason Clarke as John Connor, Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese.

There was a fractured, altered or changed time-line in this film. The film opened in the year 2029, with John Connor again leading the rebels against the forces of SkyNet. He sent his Sgt. Kyle Reese back to Los Angeles of 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, his mother. When Kyle Reese arrived, he discovered that there were two Terminators: one T-800 (Brett Azar) sent to kill the orphaned Sarah at the age of nine, and one fatherly, semi-obsolete reprogrammed T-800 (Model 101) protector to save her ("The Guardian" or "Pops"). Also there was a menacing T-1000 Terminator (Lee Byung-hun) who could morph into various human shapes. Both Sarah and Kyle battled the two Terminators (the original T-800 and the T-1000). Through time-travel, Sarah, Kyle and the Guardian journeyed to the year 2017 (not the year 1997 due to the altered time-line), since Judgment Day had been postponed from August 29, 1997 to October 2017. In the year 2017, SkyNet's precursor was revealed, a new Cyberdyne computer operating system known as "Genisys," and another opposing force was a T-3000 prototype Terminator. After the Guardian was submerged in a hot vat of polyalloy liquid (and upgraded), Sarah and Kyle were able to defeat Genisys before it came online, but then the system's core (protected by a blast shelter), survived the destruction and still threatened.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Regarded as a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), set more than two decades after the events of the second film, thereby ignoring the four subsequent films, including the most recent: Terminator: Genisys (2015). In the plot, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) set out to protect young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who was under the protection of Grace (Mackenzie Davis) - a human-Terminator hybrid, and her friend Miguel Ramos (Diego Boneta). There was also an advanced liquid-metal Terminator known as Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), sent from the future - attempting to assassinate them. 71 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role as The Terminator. Jude Collie also starred as a young John Connor.

Directed by Tim Miller, with James Cameron as producer.

Plot Synopsis

Under the credits, the film opens with a scene of Los Angeles on a hot, sunny, summer day. [Note: It is soon learned that it is August 29, 1997 - pre-Holocaust.] Cars are moving along on the freeway. Children are playing on swings in a sun-lit playground - a destructive, apocalyptic, unholy white light suddenly envelopes the scene and vaporizes everything - hotter than many suns combined.

As a title card fades in: Los Angeles 2029 A.D., the camera pans from left to right over desolate images of future death and destruction - blackened cars, skeletal drivers, a dark sky. The intense heat has dissolved and half-melted everything, including the bars of the jungle-gym where the children were playing. In the smoking ruins, skulls lie on the ground amidst the ash-drifts - the camera lingers on the charred remains of toys, swings, and slides, and then pauses on one tiny skull, as a voice over [of Sarah Connor] speaks:

Three billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, a war against the machines...

A metal foot from a high-tech figure crushes the skull from above with a bone-shattering sound. The camera pans up to reveal a silvery, skeletal, humanoid machine holding a massive battle rifle. It scans the black horizon of the war-torn terrain, revealing its red, glowing eyes. War is raging behind the chrome skeleton in the post-nuclear inferno - there are flashes of light from searchlights. Bombs explode and laser-like beam-weapons shoot across the sky. A battle is in progress between human guerrilla troops fighting against stalking robots (terminators), tanks, flying HK's and death-hungry machines. The voice-over continues, describing the supercomputer of the future - Skynet:

The computer which controlled the machines, Skynet, sent two terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the human Resistance...John Connor - my son.

The first terminator was programmed to strike at me, in the year 1984...before John was born. It failed.

The second was sent to strike at John himself, when he was still a child. As before, the Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John. It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first.

Terminators have been dispatched to the past from the future:

  • The first Terminator was sent to the year 1984 [the setting of the first film]. The relentless, unstoppable Terminator character was on a mission to kill Sarah Connor, the waitress whose unborn son John would lead the rebel war against Skynet. That mission failed and the young son was born.
  • Around the year 1995, two Terminators are then sent to the world of young John Connor, the boy who is destined to grow up to become the savior-leader of the Resistance against the cyborgs. One Terminator (sent by the humans) will be programmed to protect the ten-year-old boy, the other (a new prototype sent by Skynet and the artificially-intelligent robotic cyborgs) will try to destroy him.

As the above voice-over introduces the main context for the film and the major characters, the camera pans in on the figure of John Connor, the rebel, freedom-forces leader, who scans the combat with night-vision binoculars. He leads the remaining human Resistance forces after the nuclear disaster left the world under the domination of evil, killer cyborgs in a life-and-death struggle. His face is rugged with heavy scars.

The remainder of the credits play above reddish-yellow, billowing flames and the burning furnace of the war - the playground horses, swings, seesaw, and other apparatus are on fire. A Terminator endo-skeleton emerges from the fire - the camera ominously closes in on the eyes of the evil, shiny figure.

Electrical arcs of blue-white light snap and spark behind two parked tractor-trailers in an all-night truck stop. A global time-machine delivers the figure of a naked man, a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). He is a replica of the Terminator model T-800 from the original film - with a muscle-bound frame and a perfect physique. [Whether he is sent to protect or kill John Connor is left open to question.] He scans his surroundings without any emotion, and his computerized brain registers the results of a digitized, electronic scan of the Harley-Davidson motorcycles sitting outside a bikers' hangout called The Corral.

In an amusing scene, he calmly strolls stark-naked into the country-western cafe. As waitresses and patrons turn their wide-open eyes toward him, his alphanumeric readouts calculate body outlines to estimate and analyze which one of the customers is deemed suitable for leather clothing and boots. One of the tough-looking, cigar-smoking bikers is a "MATCH." The Terminator walks up and demands his attire - and bike:

I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.

The biker laughs with his pool-playing buddies and responds: "You forgot to say please." Then, he takes a long, red-hot draw on his cigar and stubs it out on the Terminator's chest. The Terminator, naturally, feels no pain. In the ensuing action sequence, the Terminator breaks the man's upper arm, throws the man's pool partner out the nearest window, and then heaves the cigar-smoking biker into the kitchen. He lands on the hamburger grill - his hands sizzle like bacon. That's enough to be convincing - the Terminator takes the man's .45 automatic gun and bike keys - and his clothes (off-screen).

In the next scene, a direct cut, the Terminator is already outside - from a boots-eye view. To the tune of "Bad to the Bone," the camera pans up showing him fully dressed in the bruised biker's leather clothes. As he swings his leg over the biker's wheels, another biker appears at the diner's door with a shotgun, threatening that he can't take the man's bike. The cyborg turns and coldly stops, sets the bike's kickstand, and walks over to the guy. He quickly yanks the 10-gauge shotgun from the man, closes in, and then snatches the man's sunglasses from his shirt pocket. He puts them on and then takes off on the Harley.

In another area of run-down Los Angeles where papers swirl in the night air, a Los Angeles policeman investigates a blue-white glare and more crackling electrical arcs in the air. While surveying a vaporized, circular section of chain-link fence, he is attacked from behind by another menacing, naked man - the second Terminator time traveler sent from the future. The lean cyborg changes into the man's uniform and sits in the squad car.

With access to the onboard computer terminal in the car, the Terminator (Robert Patrick) types in an on-screen inquiry for: "Connor, John" - the dramatic reason for his mission. Although John is only ten years old [it is 1995], his police record is extensive:

  • Trespassing
  • Shoplifting
  • Disturbing the Peace
  • Vandalism

Information concerning his natural mother and father is unknown. His legal guardians (foster parents) are Todd and Janelle Voight - the cyborg memorizes their address in Reseda, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.

[Note: Those who saw the earlier 1984 film assume that the first Terminator is there to complete the job that his predecessor failed to finish - to kill the boy. For a while, that appears to be the case - their clothes seem to reflect their personalities: the 'Arnold' Terminator wears bad-ass biker clothes, and the other Terminator wears a policeman's outfit. To turn the tables - in a neat role reversal - the former cyborg assassin from the first film is really a good-guy Terminator, programmed to protect the young boy.]

In a smooth transitional cut to the next scene, it is the next day. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is working on reassembling the carburetor of his Honda 125 dirtbike - amidst the noise of his boombox music and bike, he ignores his foster mother Janelle (Jenette Goldstein) yelling at him to clean up his room. When Todd (Xander Berkeley) orders his foster-son to get inside and obey his mother, John responds defiantly toward his parental authority figures: "She's not my mother, Todd!" - and zooms off on his bike. John is being raised in a foster home because his mother has been institutionalized in an asylum.

In another transitional scene to the next character - John's mother - a sign on a fence reads:

PESCADERO STATE HOSPITAL - State of California - A Criminally Disordered Retention Facility

In one of the institutional, bare brick cubicles of the high-security wing, one of the female inmates is grunting and sweating while doing pull-ups on the upturned frame of her bed - the tendons and muscles of her arms bulge as she dips and pulls up rhythmically, like a machine.

In the corridor outside, a group of young hospital interns are led by Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen), who introduces the next patient. Because of her mad ravings about terminator robots and her delusional fantasies and recurring dreams about Judgment Day, she has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic:

This next patient is interesting. I've been following the case for years. A 29-year old female, diagnosed as acute schizo-affective disorder. The usual indicators - depression, anxiety, violent acting-out, delusions of persecution....The delusional architecture is fairly unique. She believes that a machine called a 'terminator,' which looks human of course, was sent back through time to kill her. And also that the father of her child was a soldier, sent back to protect her - he was from the future too (he chuckles) - the year, uh, 2029, if I remember correctly.

At the door to the patient's room, Silberman greets her through the intercom: "Morning Sarah." She (Linda Hamilton) turns and her wild, angry eyes peer out through a tangle of hair, as she responds: "Good morning, Dr. Silberman. How's the knee?" He turns to the interns and is forced to confess that she has made repeated attempts to escape: "She stabbed me in the kneecap with my pen a few weeks ago. Repeated escape attempts."

The police squad car (with its emblem "to protect and to serve" emblazoned on the car door) pulls up in front of the Voight home. At the door, the Terminator questions John's foster parents and finds that John is away. He borrows a snapshot of John, and then registers what they tell him: "There was a guy here this morning looking for him, too...Yeah, a big guy on a bike." [Both Terminators are hunting for John - up until this point, it is unclear which one is the bad-guy killer cyborg from the future.]

John's character is demonstrated in the next scene at a bank's ATM machine. In a voice-over, he flippantly reveals that he is robbing the automatic teller machine: "Please insert your stolen card now." The stolen ATM card is rigged with a ribbon wire-band that is attached to the back of his lap-top computer, where he can crack the PIN number. He tells his friend Tim (Danny Cooksey) how he learned to defraud the bank: "From my mom. My real mom, I mean." After withdrawing three hundred dollars, his friend notices a picture in a plastic sleeve in his knapsack - it is a Polaroid of John's mother. Sounding macho, John tells Tim about his screwed-up mother, but reveals hurt in his eyes:

She's a complete psycho. That's why she's up at Pescadero. It's a mental institute, OK? She tried to blow up a computer factory, but she got shot and arrested...She's a total loser.

In the Pescadero Hospital, in one of the brightly-lit interview rooms, a video screen plays a tape of a previous session with her at least six months earlier - Sarah and the doctor watch dispassionately as she hysterically describes her recurring nightmare about the cataclysmic end of the world on Judgment Day, August 29, 1997:

It's like a giant strobe light, burning right through my eyes, but somehow I can still see. We know the dream's the same every night, why do I have to...Children look like burnt paper. Black, not moving. And then the blast wave hits them. And they fly apart like leaves...It's not a dream, you moron, it's real. I know the date it happens...on August 29th, 1997, it's gonna feel pretty f--kin' real to you, too! Anybody not wearing two million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day. Get it?!...God, you think you're safe and alive. You're already dead. Everybody! Him. You. You're dead already. This whole place, everything you see is gone. You're the one livin' in a f--kin' dream, 'cause I know it happens. IT HAPPENS!

After the tape is freeze-framed on her angry hysterics, Sarah stonily comments to the doctor: "I feel much better now. Clearer." As she is questioned further, the camera withdraws back behind a one-way mirror in an adjacent room. From there, Sarah is being videotaped and notes are being taken as she explains her improvement over six months and her desire to see her son John:

Silberman: Let's go back to what you were saying about those terminator machines. Now you think they don't exist?
Sarah: (in a hollow voice) They don't exist. I know that now.
Silberman: But you've told me on many occasions about how you crushed one in a hydraulic press.
Sarah: If I had, there would have been some evidence. They would have found something at the factory.
Silberman: I see. So you don't believe anymore that the company covered it up?
Sarah: No. Why would they?

The scene transitions to the "company," Cyberdyne Systems, the corporate headquarters of a mega-electronics corporation - Sarah was taped saying that there is no "evidence" of remaining artifacts left from the Terminator that was crushed in a hydraulic press. One long tracking shot follows Mr. Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a black computer scientist, into a bluish-lighted, high-security area. He then enters a high-tech, stainless-steel vault to check out the artifacts from the first Terminator. In front of the cabinet, he expresses blind fascination at the first artifact, computer chips from the Terminator which are sealed in a glass-container. Then he moves over to the second artifact - it is an entirely intact metallic fist and forearm - a mechanical arm which stands upright in the vacuum-sealed cabinet. [Obviously, Sarah has been telling the truth about the wreckage of the Terminator, but no one believes her.]

Back in the interview room at the hospital, Sarah is denied her request to see John by her doctor: "I know how smart you are, and I think you're just telling me what I want to hear. I don't think you really believe what you're telling me today. I think if I put you in minimum security, you'd just try to escape again....I don't see any choice but to recommend to the review board that you stay here for another six months." Not taking the news well that she can't see her son and is ordered into isolation for another six months, Sarah leaps across the table and grabs Silberman's throat, viciously attacking him. She is quickly restrained by attendants and sedated. To the camera on the other side of the one-way mirror, Silberman quips: "Model citizen."

The Terminator has been riding around Los Angeles on his motorcycle trying to positively ID John. In contrast, the second, more advanced Terminator has been using sophisticated methods to track John: the use of the police computer system, questioning of the foster parents and two girls on the sidewalk, etc. From an overpass, the Terminator spots John coming up from a drainage canal, and pursues him to a large shopping mall called The Galleria (in Sherman Oaks, CA) where he parks his larger bike next to John's smaller Honda.

From this point on, the film is composed of five exciting, action sequences:

  • Action Sequence One:
    The Galleria chase sequence with both Terminators in pursuit of John. The sequence concludes with the high-speed Flood Control Channel Chase involving a commandeered big-rig tow truck
  • Action Sequence Two:
    The hospital rescue and breakout sequence, in which the Terminator and the boy help Sarah get away from the hospital. This sequence is followed by their retreat to the desert. Sarah experiences her apocalyptic dream in full-force
  • Action Sequence Three:
    The sequence of Sarah's aborted attempt to terminate Miles Dyson, the futuristic computer scientist who will be responsible for the eventual creation of Skynet, a supercomputer of the future
  • Action Sequence Four:
    The laboratory sequence at Cyberdyne, in which the Terminator holds off hundreds of police officers, while Dyson meets a heroic death by destroying the artifacts from the future. A helicopter chase after a SWAT van leads to the last sequence
  • Action Sequence Five:
    The final action sequence at the steel foundry, where the two Terminators duel and battle to the death. The 'good' Terminator sends the T-1000 to his death in a vat of molten steel - and then heroically sacrifices himself for the sake of humankind - to ensure that his own micro-chip will not be found

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