Los Angeles, 2029 (yes, not long to go now). After the great nuclear war was followed by the war with the machines, two groups of people are sending representatives back into the past – one to kill John Connor who will / just has (delete according to time perspective) lead a glorious rebellion. The other is there to protect him.
How much you enjoy this film depends a lot on whether this opening paragraph fills you with excitement or dread. I managed to grow up through the 1980s and 1990s without seeing any of the Terminator films – well maybe I caught one on the telly, but I can’t say it stuck in my memory. So, here’s me, decades later (or 8 years too early, depending on etc., and so on) seeing what I missed.
Maybe we should start with the good party. It is slick, it contains many scenes and quotes which have since become so memorable that I’m still not sure whether they originated here, or the film is borrowing from other popular culture (though I’m suspecting the former). And, a long time before “woke Bond” it allowed the pretty ladies to do some of the shooting (though, just as with woke Bond, the big scenes were left to the men).
This was shown as part of the Saturday Horror night, which usually shows something whose budget wouldn’t pay for Arnie’s sunglasses in T2. But this is clearly a sci-fi film, for better or worse. And did I ever mention that I have serious problems with sci-fi films, most notably that they are able to make up their own rules and reconstruct reality according to the needs of their own plot.
So, we have 2 indestructible cyborgs or whatever it is that they’re called, which makes anyone else’s contributions to the big fight scenes fairly redundant. We have some huge guns which destroy anything on sight, which makes you wonder why they bother with the small pistols that they use to keep the story going. We have the ability to take on the form and voice of anyone you like, which is only used sparingly and not whenever it would save you a whole load of trouble.
And we have lots of car chases. And truck chases. And motorbike chases. Most of which also include a lot of shooting guns – sometimes small guns, if there is a need to prolong the action, sometimes huge fuck off guns, if we want to come to some sort of resolution. And some of the chases are stylish and fun. But they are all pretty much the same as each other, and in a film that runs way over 2 hours, that’s a few too many chases.
This is, of course, all an attempt to deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s weak and strong points. Weak point: he’s still not fully in control of the English language, so we’re not going to get any long musings of the state of human frailty. Strength: apart from the muscles, he does not take himself remotely seriously, so he is allowed a couple of halfway funny one-liners.
What are the politics of Terminator 2? I guess, the best answer is “confused”. We’ve already mentioned the sexual politics in passing – equal-ish opportunities to blast the hell out of anything that moves. There is also a vague suspicion of technology and the idea that if we give too much power to robots we are condemning ourselves to extinction – an idea that has been played with by both right and left.
And there is a strong reliance on Family. Arnie is there to provide the father figure that a pre-Pecker Edward Furlong never had. Sure, its a father who is incapable of emotions or being street smart (cue the Furlong character teaching him how to say “Hasta la Vista Baby”) but even a bad dad is better than having a single mother who’s been committed to a psychiatric hospital (or, heaven forfend, foster parents).
Watching Terminator 2, I did understand why people who like it like it. I could even sort of understand the round of applause some people gave it at the end (though, please, this is a piece of film. No rounds of applause. Ever). It just failed to move or engage me. Some individual action scenes were impressive, but the whole thing was all just a bit unnecessary.
I know, its not you, its me. But I still just don’t get 99% of sci-fi.