The single most iconic shot from James Cameron’s immortal sequel “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” is when Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) confronts the new, rebooted T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Equipped with a single barrel shotgun and a pair of dark-tinted sunglasses, this terminator is a flesh and metal reincarnation of all the time travel terror Sarah suffered years ago. But with an outstretched hand and a confident but reassuring voice, there was no way Sarah wouldn’t deny Arnold’s bargain of “Come with me if you want to live.”
The entirety of the LA river chase sequence, where Robert Patrick’s emotionless T-1000 barrels a semi-truck after the terminator and John Connor (Edward Furlong), but the Sarah Connor/T-800 meet is still the film’s best moment. That’s saying a lot, considering “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” is unquestionably the film’s most poignant emotional moment, a buildup and release of years of both Connor’s anguish and fear and audiences awe and suspense.
With cinematography balanced between chilly blue hues and violent flashes of bright red, “Terminator 2” is a spectacle for our sight and our soul. It’s emotionally cathartic, relinquishing itself from the B-movie origins of its prequel and asking deeper existential questions like if a robot can learn to love, let alone be a decent parent or person. The performances are sublime, and the action is crafted with the foresight and patience that only a movie maestro like James Cameron could have.
It’s almost redundant to praise this film, considering that it has been unanimously regarded in the uppermost echelons of sci-fi cinematic lore since its release. But now looking back nearly 30 years later, it’s clear “Terminator 2” is not so much a sequel to “The Terminator” as an independent story carried on with the same characters. One doesn’t need to watch “The Terminator” to get “Terminator 2,” nor revisit “Terminator 2” to find out the next chapter of “The Terminator.
“Terminator 2” manages to continue the story but exist entirely of itself, an idea Ridley Scott and Cameron proved possible with the “Aliens” franchise that movie sequels don’t need to be continuous lines of storytelling but only occasional retreads into the past with new familiar faces and themes. It’s an idea executed immensely well by “Mad Max” director George Miller and somewhat well by the creative team behind “Sicario.” Brilliant sequels like “Terminator 2” aren’t beholden to their source material but are merely inspired by it, taking a loan out of earlier ideas and paying them back with newfound storytelling resources.