Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day ★★★★★

What the heck can I even say about the movie I grew up calling the best ever made? Terminator 2 was the cinematic bible for me from the moment I first laid eyes on it. Its action was unparalleled, the characters were lovable and badass, and the stakes were beyond epic yet utterly palpable even to a ten year old kid. Nuclear war! Robot apocalypse! Fucking judgment day!

From the opening synth notes over a hazy freeway to the skull crushing introduction of the ruined future to that first blast into modern LA with our cool-kid hero John Connor on a dirtbike, hacking ATMs and flipping that amazing hair I tried to copy, I was sucked into this scifi juggernaut faster than anything I'd experienced before. The music undeniably influenced my taste going forward - I'm now up to my ears in a galaxy of synth composers, from pioneers like Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream to modern masters like Oneohtrix Point Never and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. The action-scifi template became my default when it came to film preferences, at least well into the teenage years, leading me into anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, horror movies like the Alien series, and a healthy appreciation for the genre "trash" that inspired it in the first place. The story was the most moving thing I'd ever seen, and honestly it still stirs up feelings when the terminator gives that final thumbs up as the cascading ambient pads and those soft martial drums fade, the molten steel giving way to yellow lines on an empty highway at night.

It's ridiculous for me to even attempt to spell out everything that makes this movie rock so hard. I'd take hours rambling on about just the incredible technical aspects like the massive sound design, the supereffective blending of minimal cgi, top-tier prosthetics, and makeup for the two cyborgs, or the peak-era practical effects on everything from the highway chase to the Cyberdyne shootout to the fiery industrial climax. I'd never stop talking about the masterful editing job that strings along nearly two and a half hours of relentless character, storytelling, tension, and action into a mythologically proportioned thriller that never for even a moment feels less than fully locked-in engaging. I'd gush about how it's one of only a small handful of sequels to ever best their already-near-perfect forebears. I'd never get done and by the end I'd just want to rewatch the movie again.

The Terminator series is one of several, including Aliens, that I wish had just stopped after part two. In this case, it's not just because the later sequels were abject trash compared to this one (they are), but because Terminator 2 does something miraculous as a sequel: it takes literally everything that made the first one great, billows out the mythology while never taking away from the immediacy of the story, raises the stakes, gives every major character a proper arc, and ends it all in a way that should preclude any further sequels. This movie retroactively improves the first Terminator and the pair together make for one of the most satisfying scifi sagas of all time. I may not consider Terminator 2 to be the best action movie of all time anymore - there's a lot of competition in the form of martial arts bangers like The Raid Redemption and road ragers like Mad Max: Fury Road and I don't know if I could ever feel as confident as fifteen-year-old me in stating something so definitive - but there's no doubt in my mind that it's still in the running.

One last thing: I felt such a jolt of excitement just now at the thought of eventually sharing these two movies with my son. At the time, I thought my stepdad was the coolest guy in the world for showing me the Terminator and its masterpiece sequel. Can't wait to be the coolest guy in the world to my kid, too!

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