REVIEW: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Retro Review by George McGhee

Terminator 2 a nutshell: Ten years after the events of The Terminator and Sarah Connor is in mental asylum with no-one believing her story. Her son and the saviour of the future, John is a delinquent, living with foster parents. This time, two terminators arrive from 2029, one sent by Skynet to assassinate the Connors, another sent by John Conner reprogrammed to protect them.

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The Terminator was a surprise hit in 1984, introducing the world to writer/director James Cameron and turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into a bona fide star. Taking 1950’s pulp sci fi themes (time travel, robots, nuclear paranoia) and infusing them with a 1980’s punk-slasher-film aesthetic.  

Cameron learnt his craft under low budget maestro Roger Corman, so he knew various tricks on how to make a movie look more expensive than it should. The film exceeded everyone’s expectations and earned over $75m worldwide (from a $6.5m budget) creating well deserved demand for a potential sequel.  Thanks to this success Cameron now had his pick of projects so he decided to tackle another sequel instead, Aliens (1986). 

In the wrong hands, Aliens could have been a simple cash in, like many other horror sequels – same monster, different victims. Yet, among the hordes of xenomorphs and gun happy marines, was Ripley, a scarred survivor wanting closure on her ordeal. A grieving mother forced to become a surrogate mother and protect her new child by any means.

Aliens was a huge hit, proving The Terminator wasn’t a fluke and with a decent budget, Cameron could deliver a blockbuster spectacle, taking a story in new places with engaging characters. Like with The Godfather Part II, it was a film many would go on to claim (much to the displeasure of Sir Ridley Scott) actually improved on the original film. 

Expanding the Terminator universe…the right way.

With Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron changes conventions again. Damsel-in-distress Sarah Connor has become distressed-damsel-in-asylum and Arnie’s unstoppable killer now the comedy relief babysitter. Albeit one who will kneecap you to protect his charge.

It’s a smart move from Cameron turning the villain into the hero, but also a logical one. Arnie’s career had sky-rocketed since the first film and audiences were used to seeing him as the leading action hero.  One capable of defying expectations in family friendly comedies like Twins (1988) and Kindergarten Cop (1990) with both released in the run up to T2.

Cameron could have easily followed his Aliens template even closer and simply upped the numbers.  An army of Terminators get sent back to take out more cannon fodder. However, as the first film showed, with a decent amount of firepower or heavy machinery, Schwarznegger’s hulking Terminator could be stopped. So, how do you top that?

What about a villain who can’t be shot, crushed or blown up? One that doesn’t need any weapons, can assume anyone’s identity and runs like Usain Bolt? The T1000 is an inspired choice of villain that has never been bettered in the following sequels. Relatively unknown, Robert Patrick brings a brilliant mix of physicality and sinister charm that Arnie’s monosyllabic T-800 is incapable of.

Cameron had always wanted to use a liquid metal Terminator, but ironically, he had to wait for technology catch up with his vision. Effects legends, ILM (Star Wars, Back to The Future, Indiana Jones) are responsible for delivering ground breaking effects that still impress today. The film pushed CGI effects to it’s limit, though Cameron uses them to enhance the storytelling, making the T1000 a unique and very dangerous villain.

At the same time, it’s easy to forget how much stunning practical trickery is at play here –  prosthetic’s, animatronics, pyrotechnics or even some clever use of twins – check out the podcast episode where we discuss the several uses of twins and links with Gremlins 2 in more detail.

Raising the stakes

Much like it’s predecessor, Judgment Day deftly balances some chunky time travel exposition between some thrilling action sequences that maybe long, but the pace never lets up. In all of the key action sequences, Cameron cleverly dials up the tension before unleashing stylish action that still impresses.

The first big action scene (outside of the prologue) begins with both Terminators closing in on John in the Galleria. Despite the heavy marketing, the uninitiated don’t know which robot is hero and which is villain. Without any prior knowledge, you could even assume that Patrick is a human, like Kyle Reese.

Once the Terminators reveal their true colours, the extended action that starts with a brawl in a mall and ends in a thrilling storm drain chase. Following that set piece, Cameron gives us time to breathe whilst the T800 brings John (and the audience) up to speed on his mission whilst allowing some comic relief, as John realises the T800 must follow his every command.

“a fearsome mamma bear who’s willing to break a few bones to protect her son”

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Meanwhile back in the asylum, we get to spend time with the original film’s lead, Sarah. Gone is the clumsy waitress from the original.  We now are faced with a caged animal!  She’s a fearsome mamma bear who’s willing to break a few bones to protect her son and prevent the nuclear apocalypse. It’s a clever take on the Greek myth of Cassandra, a woman who can foresee the future, yet no one believes.  

Main differences from the original

The first film used the exposition a lot more economically, whilst our heroes are on the run. Yet, considering how action packed the last 40 minutes of the film will be, it’s a wise move to allow us to spend proper time with our heroes whilst adding some emotional heft.  Whether it be the key scenes of the T800 bonding with John or Sarah’s descent into a cold-blooded killer, as she decides to go after Miles Dyson.

The scene at the Dyson’s is also a stand out for it’s chilling menace, as Cameron briefly returns to the body horror of The Terminator. It’s an interesting move for John, essentially a child, to instruct the T800 to savagely reveal his true self, but it’s certainly gets the required reaction from Dyson.

The third act is another brilliant example of tension and action spectacle, beginning with the Cyberdyne break in, which quickly turns into a break out, escaping most of LA’s police force as well as the T1000. The final chase again has echoes of the first film but the budget ups the scale considerably before reaching another factory set climax. The tension is cranked up until the very end as it appears the T1000 is unstoppable, the T800 is beaten to a pulp and our heroes have nowhere to go. After finishing off the T1000, Cameron hits home with emotional sucker punch – Sarah and John must also put their beloved protector into the furnace.

Is the sequel better than the original?

It’s a frequent debate between film fans, which is superior, The Terminator or Judgment Day? Similar to Alien and Aliens, there’s no straightforward answer. Both sets of film take the story in unexpected places, evolving characters and twisting conventions. Whilst I love, the gritty, no frills neo-noir chase movie of the original, I prefer T2 because it has a bigger story, amazing action sequences, humour and more humanity. Like many great philosophical sci-fi, the sequel dares to ask the popular question, “What does it mean to be human?”

Whilst the first film was a survival horror with a fairly forced love story, the sequel shows us the importance and complications of family.  A mother who will go to any means to protect her son, a hard-working family man destined to destroy civilisation and a boy yearning for a father figure. Amidst all the action, special effects, plot and character development there’s also a good amount of humour and just the right amount of emotion. John can be an annoying little shit at times but I always have something in my eye, come Arnie’s fiery thumbs up.

After several botched sequels, the rights to the Terminator franchise have ended up back with Cameron once more. Even whilst busy with Avatar sequels, Big Jim is currently crafting a new sequel, with Tim Miller of Deadpool in the director’s chair.  Arnie is back, as always and more interestingly, so is Linda Hamilton, as the film intended to be a direct sequel to T2. Will it be good? The future is not set…

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

Rock star Billy Idol for first choice for T-1000 but injured himself in a motor bike accident. Denzel Washington turned down the role of Miles Bennett Dyson

MVP

James Cameron – the man knows how to deliver a sequel.

TRAILERS – Alien: Covenant (the best trailer!)

Alien: Covenant hits cinemas May 9th and you’ve probably already seen posters about town and even checked out the trailers if you’re a fan of the franchise. We have too and it appears that, as per usual, there is more than one theatrical trailer. It also appears that, as per usual, one of those trailers is just right and the other gives far too much away – why film studios are choosing to do this these days is baffling.

If you’ve not seen the trailer that seems to be doing the rounds then you come to the right place since we have the ONLY trailer that you should watch for Alien: Covenant – the other versions give away far too many Act 3 plot points much like the trailers for Prometheus did (Alien spaceship rolling after Charlize Theron anyone!)

Anyhoo, all that said, here is the best trailer to watch. Regardless of the mixed reception Prometheus, this one does appear to be aiming for the suspense, horror and action that made the first two films the cult classics they are today.

Enjoy and please let us know what you think below.

REVIEW: Starship Troopers (1997)

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1997 brought us so many entertaining films across a variety of genres, it’s really hard to pick a handful of films to focus on. As a fan of director Paul Verhoven, especially his previous sci-fi blockbusters Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), one film that stands out for me is Starship Troopers.

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The Dutch director has a brave, devil may care attitude, and he injects these films with such energy and playfulness, many people forget the films also provide a subtle social commentary and intelligence missing from other films in the genre.

These films form an unofficial trilogy of sorts and their DNA is unmissable –  the heady mix of futuristic tech, cartoonish gore and black humour. In today’s formulaic movie landscape, these films would no doubt be shoehorned into the one thing that makes a studio executive drool – a shared universe!  Like Marvel but the Crazy Dutchman Cinematic Universe (CDCU) if you will.

“Would you like to know more?”

Starship Troopers reunites Verhoven with Robocop writer Ed Neumier and it shows – the satirical news snippets are a hilarious highlight and make it a spiritual sequel to Robocop. Writer and director rekindle their magic and take the po-faced 1950s novel by Robert A. Heinlein, strip it of its high tech Iron Man esque mech warrior warfare whilst keeping  the basic tale of teens becoming adults in a fascist future, that in today’s political climate seems scarily prescient.

Its a simple tale of a handsome boy, Johnny who’s in love with a girl, Carmen, so he signs up for military service to impress her/seal the deal. Johnny’s friend, girl next door Diz, is clearly also in love Johnny, so she follows him into military service. Then space bugs destroy the white-washed future Buenos Aires by hurling their spores through space (don’t worry about that too much) – forcing them into an intergalactic (planetary! – sorry, force of habit being a 90’s teen) war with some terrifying bugs, that come in all shapes and sizes. As I said, a simple tale.

“its a film about unrequited love, growing up, accepting responsibility, and perseverance. It’s just told across a backdrop of stylised sci-fi action with impressive special effects that still look passable today

On the surface, it’s like many a teen romance – its a film about unrequited love, growing up, accepting responsibility, and perseverance. It’s just told across a backdrop of stylised sci-fi action with some impressive special effects that still look passable today (courtesy of Jurassic Park’s Dino Supervisor – Phil “You only had one job” Tippett).

The film’s narrative plays out of order to provide a thrilling opening of a failed invasion on the planet  before probably introducing us to the film’s Beverly Hills 90210-eque leads. We are quickly transported to the Mobile Infantry’s training camps to provide a futuristic spin on the story staple often found in Vietnam films. We’re introduced to all the bug fodder, a literal game of lazer tag and some communal showing – because…shut up, it’s a Verhoven film, that’s why!

We get to see some great battle scenes, revealing a plethora of grotesque bugs that offer a variety of gory deaths – flying bugs that decapitate or giant tanker bugs that melt you alive (a nod back to Robocop, perhaps?) The film also manages to honour/homage Aliens and Zulu  – our heroes with all their military hardware – the giant machine guns and hand sized nukes, find themselves  completely out of their depth when faced with hordes of foreign savages who just keep coming.

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The film has a decent cast – mostly. Leads Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards bring beauty and soap opera quality acting that works amongst the ridiculousness of it all. Neil Patrick Harris displays some of that witty charm we’re now so familiar with, before going all serious psychic space Gestapo towards the end.

Clancy Brown and Dean Norris provide the gruff military authority in the training camp scenes that they’re both so good at (and have been typecast in).

Then there’s Michael Ironside – what a legend!  Ironside, the sneering sidekick and party pooper from Total Recall is perfectly cast in the grizzled war veteran come mentor role.

“Ironside brings a gravitas to the film that others cannot, I think very few people could deliver a line like “They’ve sucked his brains out!” with such conviction”

He’s the perfect citizen, a man who’s sacrificed his arm protecting the body politic and will gladly die for it, as long as it’s an honorable death. Ironside brings a gravitas to the film that others cannot, I think very few people could deliver a line like “They’ve sucked his brains out!” with such conviction. Like Air Force One (1997) and Gary Oldman, as soon as Ironside exits, the film seems to lose momentum – perhaps it’s because Rasczak is the only character we’re genuinely invested in.

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Ironside and Verhoven are such a good match, part of me thinks he should be digital inserted into Robocop as Clarence Boddicker – though that would mean losing the equally awesome Kurtwood Smith. One thing I love about these Verhoven films is the memorable character actors like Smith, Ronny Cox and Dean Norris in the supporting roles.

Troopers didn’t make a huge dent in the box office and I think a key reason is that some multiplex audiences took the film for it’s surface detail and completely missed the right wing political satire.

Most will probably consider this the weakest of the trilogy, lacking Robocop’s intelligence or the pace and thrills of Total Recall but there’s still a lot to enjoy, come for extreme violence, stay for the satire! Unsurprisingly there’s been recent news of a remake, despite the poor reception to both Robocop (2014) and Total Fuckall (2014). Verhoven, when questioned about it made a valid point “the studios always wanted not to have a layer of lightness, a layer of irony, sarcasm, satire.”

Adapting a straight faced adaptation of right wing sci fi allegory is hard work – watch Ender’s Game (2013) for further evidence. When viewing a fascist future through Verhoeven’s lens, it may be brutal, gory and sometimes scary, but hey, at least it’s fun.

  • MVP: There’s only one Michael Ironside!
  • Alternate Title: Sexy Space Nazis
  • Fun Fact: More ammunition was used in this film than in any previous movie.

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Your opinion guarantees citizenship!

  • What are your thoughts on Verhoven’s sci-fi films?
  • Do you love Michael Ironside as much as we do?
  • Let us know in the comments!