from The Village Voice

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” Is Still a Deeply Upsetting Blockbuster

“It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves”


Say what you will about James Cameron, but the man commits. Stories of the director’s perfectionism, his control-freak mania, and his sheer drive are legion, but I’m talking about something more fundamental to the work itself. Whereas most action filmmakers are content to let emotion and morality play second fiddle to the more immediate, commercial elements of their movies, Cameron refuses to relegate such things to the background. The love story in Titanic isn’t just an excuse to stage an extravagant disaster flick; it becomes the picture’s raison d’être (and, not coincidentally, a key factor in its success). The environmental and anti-colonial overtones of Avatar aren’t there merely to provide some character shading; they practically take over. And now, back in theaters and converted to 3-D, is Cameron’s classic sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day — not just a movie about fighting to prevent nuclear apocalypse, but a movie obsessed with nuclear apocalypse.

Maybe that wasn’t so clear back in 1991, when it originally came out. The Iron Curtain had recently fallen, effectively ending the Cold War and seemingly lifting the nuclear threat. I distinctly remember Sarah Connor’s occasional ruminations on the fate of the human race eliciting chuckles in my theater at the time. Today, however, the overwhelming despair of T2 is impossible to ignore. This is one of the most upsetting blockbusters ever.

In 1984, Cameron’s original Terminator played a key role in turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into a massive global star, and it was a nasty, brutish little beast of a movie — an R-rated horror flick posing as a sci-fi thriller. But it worked (and became a hit) because, playing a killer super-robot sent from the future by our machine overlords to murder the young woman (Linda Hamilton) who would give birth to the leader of the human resistance, Schwarzenegger used his considerable limitations as an actor to his advantage. Thus did Arnold become an icon of Reaganite, muscles-and-guns spectacle: a terse, emotionless robot racking up an insane body count with an assortment of heavy weaponry.

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