With Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the big screen in The Last Stand, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at their favourite Arnie movies. Next up, Scott Davis with 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day…
I remember the day so vividly when I was first introduced to the world of The Terminator. My uncle, a young buck at the time, and my Grandad, were my real source for all things film. Their collection of horror, sci-fi and bootleg movies were what drew me in, firstly with a terribly dark bootleg of Batman in 1990, then later with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors. Not the film but the cover: a demonic Freddy Kruger staring at me as if to say “watch me, you’re not too young”. Then there was An American Werewolf in London, a definite no-go due to its content. My Grandad, however, thought otherwise, and helped me smuggle the film home in one of those Video Library cases.
Then, when I stayed over one cold Autumn weekend, I managed to convince him to rent Terminator 2: Judgment Day, even though I knew nothing about it, except that the great Arnold Schwarzenegger was the star, and I knew him from Twins (which again I thank my Grandad/Uncle for introducing me too). Something about him astride that motorbike, with that leather jacket firmly grasping his huge frame that drew me in. Even if in reality, it had very little to do with the narrative of the film, it did make Arnie look like the coolest man alive.
So there I was, about 11, sitting with my grandparents watching what I thought was confusing and horrible. Not surprisingly, in the days that followed, I suffered terrible nightmares of Arnie cutting off his arm flesh to reveal his robot arm, turning it right at me, right into my eyes. Since that day nearly two decades ago, I’ve realised that despite the nightmares, T2 stayed with me, and has ever since as the single greatest film I’d ever sat through (barring childhood favourite Masters of the Universe of course.)
James Cameron’s technical brilliance and envelope-pushing reached one of its many peaks with T2. Not just a masterpiece in special effects, for which countless movies are forever in its debt, it’s a stunningly written piece of action cinema, merging the old “little men can make a difference” with awe-inspiring set pieces and the aforementioned CGI.
Opening once more in the midst of the story’s epic war for the future with the machines, Terminator 2: Judgment Day begins as it means to go on: a punishing, frenetic, nightmarish vision of how humanity gets outfought and out-thought by the very same machines it invented. The legendary brainchild of director James Cameron after a feverish dream back in the 80s, T2 was the biggest movies of 1991, breaking box-office records across the globe, and reaffirming both Cameron and Schwarzenegger’s place as height-weights of their field.
And, as with the original (arguably better) film, Schwarzenegger is the key player. Back in 1984, his almost mute portrayal of the killing machine that will not stop turned Hollywood heads, and helped define his career as the 80s action god.
As good as he was in the first; T2 is arguably Schwarzenegger’s acting height. Such is his conviction and power as The Terminator, it’s easy to overlook his work. Granted, his range is limited, but not before, nor since, has Schwarzenegger displayed the perfect concoction of grace, wit and *charm* that Cameron wrestled from those tree-trunk arms. The support from Hamilton, Furlong, Patrick and the always-brilliant-but-underrated Joe Morton is uniformly superb, but it’s Schwarzenegger who is the stand-out amongst the action and end-of-the-world.
Its power is unmistakable, and it’s in it human moments amongst the mayhem that raise the film above all its imitators, and it’s Schwarzenegger, who as the friendlier Terminator here, who shines in these moments. Who hasn’t watched the film ending as our “hero” battles the inferno of lava just enough to give his thumb-up to Edward Furlong’s John Connor, and blubbered like a baby? I have. Many, many times.
And it’s that moment, amongst all the other wonderful ones in this monolith of a movie, which has always stuck with me. With just one gesture, amidst all the mayhem, destruction and awkward robot smiles, T2 truly sticks in the mind forever, and rightfully takes its place amongst the great movies of the century.