by Rob Gonsalves
By now, of course, you've either seen 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' or made up your mind to miss it. Reviewing it at this point is like reviewing the paint job on a roller coaster. I won't bother with the plot here, largely because there really isn't one. 'T2' is, for all its flash and fury, a rehash of the brilliant 1984 original, lacking that film's tautness.But still! I enjoyed T2 as much as I did the other two great American entertainments of 1991 (The Silence of the Lambs and Thelma & Louise, for those keeping score). And it's unquestionably a top-drawer sequel, with all the mayhem and power $100 million can buy; it's a big monster toy. James Cameron, who directed both Terminator films, is a genuine visionary, an obsessional maximalist; even if you find nitpicks here and there -- and you do -- T2 still bowls you over. Cameron may only make preposterous, excessive epics laden with hardware, but nobody does it better. In T2, he's in his element -- he has huge toys to play with.
"James Cameron's big monster toy."
The violence in Cameron's films goes so far past what you're used to that it becomes bone-crunching slapstick. Example: When the good Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the older, weaker T-800 model, and the evil Terminator (Robert Patrick), the ominously bland and frighteningly resourceful T-1000, first meet about half an hour into the movie, they spend a minute or so throwing each other through walls. No, wait. Go back and read that again. Throwing each other through walls. These are not flimsy walls, either; these are concrete walls. "Excessive" is the word that keeps popping to mind.
Example: When the thirteen-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong) -- destined, in the possible future, to become the leader of a human rebellion against the Terminators -- tries to escape the T-1000 via motorcycle, the cyborg just trots after him. On foot. And almost catches him, even though the kid is burning rubber. Later, the kid's still peeling on the motorcycle, and the T-1000 comes after him in a huge truck. Now, the kid is in an embankment, and the truck is on a bridge some twenty feet above. Doesn't faze the T-1000. He floors it, drives through the railing, crashes with gargantuan bang and metal shriek onto the pavement below ... and keeps roaring after the kid. Excessive.
Example: Arnie, the good and noble Terminator sent to the past by John Connor to protect his mother and his younger self, has promised the kid that he won't kill anybody. Fair enough. When confronted with what appears to be the entire Los Angeles police department, Arnie doesn't retreat and doesn't go back on his word. He just carefully, precisely shoots the cops' kneecaps off, one cop after another. Funny, right? But wait. In a later shot, we see a bunch of the poor cops limping or crawling to their cars. Great touch. Hilarious. Also excessive.
Example: The T-1000 is driving another massive rig -- this one full of liquid nitrogen. Arnie hops onto the hood, whips out a gigantic machine gun, and empties it into the T-1000's face, point blank. Excessive? Hell, yes.
The point? At a James Cameron movie, you see things you never get to see. Physics and logic are minor issues for him. If you're a guy, do you remember all the sadistic things you did to action figures as a kid? You'd bury 'em, throw 'em in the street so they'd get run over, toss 'em off the roof or down some stairs or chuck 'em against the side of the house, and they'd be back for more, because you'd pretend that, say, Han Solo was still alive even though you smooshed him with a brick yesterday. That's the essential appeal of the Terminator movies. Cameron invites us boys to join him in smooshing very expensive action figures. Also cars and trucks.
So what do women get out of his films? Simple. In most of Cameron's movies, there's a strong heroine. Aliens had Sigourney Weaver; The Abyss had Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio; and both Terminator films have Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, John's violently protective mother. Though Hamilton did little in the original except run and suffer, she's ferocious and feral in this outing. Powerfully built, with years of combat training from all the mercenaries who've been in and out of her bed, Sarah may be a more efficient warrior than Arnie. Without expecting applause, Cameron avoids making his heroines into mere Rambettes. He thinks women can be heroic on their own terms. A revolutionary idea.
T2, like Cameron's other movies, isn't for the faint of heart. I've talked to people who just snort with disdain ("Yeah, right") when I recommend T2. By so doing, they're passing up one of the more electrifying bits of filmmaking in many recent summers, but to them, I guess, T2 represents mindless violence, the emblematic example of the big stupid blockbusters we get every summer. Well, yeah, it's that too, but much more. Cameron has used some of that $100 million to mount a horrifying -- and meant to be horrifying -- simulation of nuclear holocaust. That should, if nothing else, help the pacifists in the audience feel less guilty. And Cameron has done something else: He's made the finest violent anti-violence movie in years.
Consider: Arnie doesn't kill anyone -- even before he has promised not to. In the 1984 film, Arnie was the killer, but he was also a malicious hoot: because he was so absurdly implacable, audiences laughed at the vicious things he did. If you laugh at this stuff, it doesn't have to mean you're demented or laughing at real death and suffering, because, of course, it isn't. Cameron pumps himself up, exaggerating everything. In T2, you laugh at two single-minded robots doing major damage to each other without pain or emotion. Cameron has liberated the action film from any false empathy. We are spectators, never asked to identify with anyone, and the movie is a fireworks grand finale that never stops.
Which brings me to the final reason to see T2. Remember The Abyss, with its glob of seawater that could imitate people's facial expressions? T2 uses the same technology to create a T-1000 that can do ... well, anything. Ooze through bars, reconstruct itself from tiny drops of liquid metal, mold its hands into lethal spikes; anything. I'm hard to please -- I've seen pretty much everything Hollywood's special-effects whiz kids can do, or at least I thought I had. Throughout T2 I sat stunned, gaping at the mind-bending computer effects that are inarguably worth whatever they cost, and with a relentless circus like this one who gives a damn about the budget?We are lucky, in these dull and barren days of lukewarm cinema, to have James Cameron to expand the possibilities of movie fantasy, to stretch the screen till it rips. He's the only action director I can think of who can forge beauty out of hardware, elegance out of chaos. At its best -- which it hits often and hard -- 'T2' is a masterfully sustained symphony of violence.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=232&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/11/07 14:03:20