A kinder, gentler terminator. What an affront. In 1984, director-writer James Cameron gave Arnold Schwarzenegger the role of his career, as a killer cyborg sent from the future to murder Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she gives birth to a son who will lead a revolt against the ruling army of machines. “I’ll be back,” said Schwarzenegger. Now he is back, but reprogrammed as a goody-goody to protect Sarah’s son, John Connor, played by fourteen-year-old Edward Furlong. The bad Terminator (Robert Patrick) is a newer model — a hunk of liquid metal in human form (he looks like an Oscar with ears) — out to waste John and clear the way for nuclear war on August 29th, 1997.
John doesn’t like killing, so Ah-nold’s Mr. Softie merely shoots the bad guys in the kneecaps. He even shows compassion. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” he asks John as the boy cries. Soon he’s the first cyborg to learn the meaning of a tear.
Schwarzenegger has fun saying things like “Chill out, dickwad” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” But the star’s quips are predictable, the stock in trade of an icon for hire. It’s Cameron’s show; he’s the reigning king of movie pow, with dark wit and a poet’s eye for mayhem. T2 cost a reported $100 million, and you can actually see where the money went. The visual and makeup effects are state-of-the-art, making Terminator 2 the big-daddy action entertainment of the summer.
Still, the film’s relentless pummeling grows wearying at 135 minutes. The first Terminator, a half-hour shorter, was leaner and meaner. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher saddle the game Hamilton with too many rants about peace. Cameron is not skilled at preaching (a similar moral stance marred the climax of The Abyss). And the good Terminator’s cornball farewell feels out of place for Schwarzenegger and the film. It’s the equivalent of making a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs in which Hannibal the Cannibal becomes a vegetarian. In these days of wimpomania, that just might strike some studio honcho as a bright idea.