...huh. I’ve got mixed feelings on this one.
As you know if you’ve read my previous post about it, I loved the hell out of Terminator 1, and naturally, I was looking forward to checking out the sequel. Actually, I was looking forward to the sequel long before I’d even seen the first. Aside from the endless praise, the stakes and tension from the premise alone sounded like it was going to be higher than ever. Plots involving being hunted by someone or something from the target’s POV have always been my bulletproof storytelling kink (provided that the target is likable, of course), and from the perspective of someone as helpless in the situation as a child, it sounded like it was going to be an amazing thrill ride.
So why the mixed feelings?
It started the moment the Terminator stepped out of the bar and “Bad to the Bone” played on cue. Then he put on his sunglasses...the ones he put on in the last film only because his eye was disfigured and he needed to pass as a human. This makes even less sense when taking his arc in this film of becoming “more human” into consideration, but it’s mostly a nitpick, so I decided to let it slide. Maybe the scene was considered “cool” at the time of its release. Maybe it was just going to be one weak scene and the rest of the film would make up for it.
And there were some great scenes. Unfortunately, the off-putting tone of the aforementioned scene seemed to carry on pervasively throughout the film. John’s bond with the Terminator was muddled by him teaching him “hip” one-liners to say; I get he’s a kid, but he also speaks with coarse, adult language and has capability of thought beyond his years that it feels painfully out of place. The attempts at humor in general (“I need a vacation”) also made me wince. I can respect an action film that doesn’t take itself seriously, but coming fresh out of Terminator 1, this felt downright uncomfortable to watch. I won’t get into the attempts to please fans of the first by bringing back the two memorable lines “I’ll be back” and “Come with me if you want to live,” but the use of the latter kind of infuriated me.
I have a hard time deciding if the bond between John and the Terminator felt genuine or cheesy; so much of the time was spent bonding over one-liners it was difficult to remember the reasons the two bonded to begin with. I did love Sarah’s final line about humanity and machines, though her on-again-off-again narration was another element of the film that felt out of place and at times even disruptive.
What I missed most that 1 had that 2 didn’t however, was its emphasis on being more of a character-driven thriller than an outright action film. There was action in 1, but it was used in moderation, and it always prioritized the feeling of being chased down over the impressiveness of whatever shooting or explosion was going on. I suppose you could argue that Terminator 2 was intended to be a sequel that’s also its own film, much like Aliens was, but even if I hadn’t seen 1, I’d probably be let down by the amount of action over story and character building, especially once the plot changes from “John needs to be protected from an advanced, near-indestructible robot” to “We have to destroy this chip.” The tension just seemed to evaporate from there.
You might be thinking, “You just wanted Terminator 1 again.” And hey, you might be right.