Arnold Schwarzenegger was far and away the biggest movie star in the world by the time Terminator 2 was released, with a string of hits (Predator, Twins, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop) speaking to his breakthrough popularity in a variety of genres. Still, when he returned to his most popular character, sired in the 1984 sci-fi classic The Terminator, it was a financial gamble. By the time the movie was released, it had cost upwards of $100 million to make— at the time the largest budget for a film ever.
That gamble paid off, of course, as did others. Turning Arnold’s iconic killer robot into a good guy for the sequel was a risk— one that even the star himself was hesitant to go along with. But writer and director James Cameron had a vision— it was crucial thematically that the robot not kill anyone in this follow-up. The result is a movie that is as much about the definition of humanity as it is about bravura action sequences.
But oh yes, those action sequences are amazing. Epic chase scenes and shootouts are found throughout, with the requisite jaw-dropping stunts and fight choreography. But what sticks in the memory the longest is the creation of the villainous T-1000, the liquid metal killer that can change forms at will. A triumph of visual effects to this day, the T-1000 (played in human form with understated menace by Robert Patrick) was the biggest sign yet that computer generated visual effects would be the way of the future.
The Terminator franchise would continue past Judgment Day, to increasingly diminishing returns each time. None of the follow-ups would find the sweet spot between hardware and humanity that T2 would. Perhaps the Terminator story always had a shelf life, and had said all it needed to say by the time Arnold’s character heroically sacrifices itself to save humanity. That final act by the T-800 should have been the period at the sentence. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is available for streaming on Netflix.