Action movies are one of the most popular types of film. They in concept serve a movie's purpose: to entertain. Its always fun to see action combined with another genre, such as fantasy, or in this case science fiction. Terminator 2 since its release has been critically acclaimed and regarded as the summer blockbuster. This film and Aliens (which interestingly enough was also directed by James Cameron) are often looked at by longtime movie watchers as the ideal action films. With Genisys just seeing release, I thought it was time to head back and see why Judgment Day is held to such a high regard. After watching it, it is unfortunate to see why so many action blockbusters fail so miserably. If they took a peak at how this film did it, they could see some success.
The plot is pretty well known by now, so we'll keep it brief. In the future, John Connor sends a reprogrammed T-800 back in time to protect his younger self from Skynet's robot, the T-1000. Sarah Connor, John's mother, has been thrown in a mental hospital, but she's quickly thrown into the conflict. The film opens up to the near future, with a destroyed Los Angeles. It's a fantastic setup, and 24 years later the Terminators with their laser guns still appear very frightening on the TV screen. The main story is of course in the present, so the future scene serves as a backdrop to it and a tease of what a plot completely set in the future would be like. (We finally got that in the immensely underrated Terminator Salvation 18 years later.)
The reason why I believe this film is above most modern action movies is the emphasis on the conflict. When T-1000 arrives, the story becomes essentially about him chasing John and T-800 protecting him. The conflict is always at the front without much emphasis on the personal lives of the characters. This isn't a bad thing because in a sci fi action film, the conflict is the most important aspect. This is not to say there's no character development here, but the writing doesn't try to make it about them. It's about saving the future.
Films like Transformers, Battleship, and Edge of Tomorrow add in unneeded comedy, exposition, and attempt to make the characters quirky or something rather than focusing on the plot at hand. "Judgement Day" never once feels like it lets up on the conflict. Just about every scene is important in forwarding the story. The viewer is engaged not because mainly of who the human characters are, but because of the conflict driving them. This is of course greatly helped by Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of the Terminator. T-800 is a fantastic focus as we see his emotionless demeanor and how he slowly learns to be a little more human. It never becomes cheesy to the point of a Predator mimicking human words in Predator 2.
John Connor in this particular film has got to be one of the most unlikable kids in film history. According to the film's universe, he would be 10...yet has enough juvenile accounts to fill a person at age 17. Not only that, but he curses in almost every scene he's in. Realistically, I just don't think someone at that age would be utilizing this kind of language. In fact, he doesn't act like a 10 year old at all throughout. If everything else wasn't so great, he could have truly dragged down the story. (The problem with Jurassic World was its reliance on mediocre characters over the story.)
Linda Halmilton as Sarah Connor does the deranged act pretty solid. It kind of reminds me of the rather crazed Ellen Ripley in Alien: Resurrection, which isn't a bad thing. Besides Arnold however, the true star was T-1000, portrayed by Robert Patrick. This guy is known as the best antagonist of the series, and for good reason. Every scene he's in he commands a presence. The interesting concept of him being able to liquefy himself into basically any object is a pretty cool effect that doesn't look dated at all.
Overall, I believe that Terminator 2 is the archetype of action films. It's basically a blueprint a lot of movies have looked at and failed to emulate. The characters here aside from John Connor are engaging. The conflict is the driving force, with them basically along for the ride. If they were bad characters, we'd have a problem. This is one hole a lot of modern films have. The plot might be interesting, but most of the characters are written so poorly that they drag the story down. (All four "Transformers" movies.) On the flip side, if the characters are boring and one-dimensional, the action is going to feel shallow with no point. (Once again, "Wrath of the Titans.") "Judgement Day" manages to find a perfect balance of solid characters and emphasis on the plot, which is accompanied by a great soundtrack. I would definitely defend the sequels, but there's no denying that T2 stands the test of time of being perhaps the greatest action film and one of the best movies overall.