If this movie had been made a decade or two later, it would have inspired a fan backlash.
Do you doubt me? This is the film that transforms Sarah Connor from the ordinary young waitress of the original movie into a hardboiled commando, athletic and capable of handling firearms with ease. You can’t tell me that people wouldn’t complain about the change. As if that weren’t enough, now the T-800 is a good guy, fighting to protect the young John Connor. “But how did that even work?” the Comic Book Guys of the world may ask. “How does it fit with the established lore?”
But T2‘s biggest crime against the franchise is the subversion of The Terminator‘s original theme. The first film is fatalistic, with the coming nuclear war caused by Skynet understood as an inevitable outcome.
T2 says otherwise; that “there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” It totally undercuts the original’s theme. Not to mention opening a whole new can of worms about multiple timelines, in addition to the paradoxes that are implicit in every time travel story.
All these are valid criticisms. But it doesn’t change the fact that Terminator 2 is still a really great action movie. Yes, it replaces The Terminator‘s grittiness with some pretty over-the-top and cartoonish action sequences, most notably the use of an M134 minigun as a precision non-lethal weapon to avoid casualties. Just… no. Or rather, only in the movies. Though I am come to sing T2‘s praises, I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s believable.
This might sound silly nowadays, and yet, I think, it was the attitude that made ’90s pop culture so damn infectious. Terminator 2 is lighter than both The Terminator and Terminator 3. And that, I submit, is because it was made after the renewed US-Soviet tensions of the ’80s and before the post-9/11 2000s. It captures the mood of the era, by willing to be a fun Arnold Schwarzenegger movie where the killer robot says things like “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Is The Terminator a “better” movie? I dunno, depends what you mean by “better.” In some ways, sure. But in terms of being a fun action movie that you can just enjoy and walk out of feeling like the good guys won and the bad guys lost, Terminator 2 is better.
This is why I contend that Terminator 2 is the perfect movie to encapsulate what I mean when I speak of ’90s action movies. It kicked off a style of film that would rule the decade. And moreover, it was the last decade that films like Terminator 2 could rule, exactly because fandoms had not yet organized to talk about them.
All the films I’m going to talk about in this series could not be made now, for one reason or another. And that’s partially why I want to write about them, because (you may laugh) I think these films say something about their time, and, perhaps, by way of reflection, our time as well.
But that’s only secondary. The main reason is that ’90s action movies are freaking fun, and that’s why I like watching them. James Cameron, for all his faults, sure knows how to make a good action picture. Even when he goes and makes something that’s nothing but a rip-off of Ferngully meets Dances With Wolves, the action sequences are still good. And here was Cameron at his peak, making a film with one high-speed action scene after another. I think the canal chase is my favorite part. You’ve got to love the way Arnold flips that shotgun around.
That said, let’s not forget the prelude to that sequence, when the T-1000 and the T-800 hunt John Connor through the mall. Watching it now, of course, I’m highly nostalgic. Malls are a feature of the ’90s that has since been devoured by the internet. In reality, it turned out that “Skynet” needed no nuclear missiles to take over the world; it just needed a ton of server space.
Sorry; I’m getting philosophical again. I do that sometimes when I write about movies. You’re still here, so maybe you like it, or at least are willing to tolerate it. Philosophy is a wonderful thing, and it’s delightful to find it sprinkled around the edges of our favorite movies.
But it can never be the main thing. Ultimately, movies are at their best when they show us a world we can get lost in, give us characters we can love and hate, and above all else, tell us a good story. The films I’m going to discuss all do that, and that’s why I’m revisiting them now. Come join me, won’t you? Or should I say, “Come with me if you want to live… the ’90s over again.”