Setting aside the theological ramifications of a title like Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), specifically everything after the colon, such a sobriquet does not make a ton of sense. Then again, had they called it Terminator 2: Stopping Judgement Day, that would have given away the ending. The events in the film also do not have anything to do with the Biblical end of the world. Because its writer and director James Cameron is an American filmmaker producing movies for an American audience, he is going to use familiar terms. As a practicing Catholic, I find this frustrating, though Cameron is not alone in using Christian imagery and phrases as shorthand for whatever theme to which they are eluding. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, there are no horsemen, broken seals, or the multitude of the elect clothed in white robes worshipping at the throne of God. Most people, including many self-proclaimed Christians, have never read the Book of Revelation, evidenced by the fact that often they forget that there is no “s” on the end. All they know is that it has something to do with end times, and God’s judgement, or something. With such scant knowledge, it sounds much worse than what it is, making it perfect fodder for a film about preventing nuclear holocaust and a post-apocalyptic planet where machines are hunting to extinction what remains of humanity.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day opens with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) narrating how the Earth got to the aforementioned point where humanoid robots stalk a desolate war-scape in a shattered Los Angeles of 2029, killing any person they can find. She is talking about the man who is leading mankind’s resistance to their planned destruction, her son John (Michael Edwards). During her narration, she also recaps the previous film where a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent to 1984 to kill her before she can give birth. If you had seen the predecessor, you will know how nice of a cinematic trick that is because from here, Terminator 2 is similar in plot structure to The Terminator (1984). Getting back to 1991 sequel, we see another terminator looking exactly like the one from the previous film appear from a lightning wreathed sphere. The next scene features what looks to be smaller man emerging in another part of the city. It is not until they catch up with their target, a young John Connor (Edward Furlong), at a local mall that you know for sure that the new terminator is there to protect the kid, while the other is the one tasked with John’s assassination. Given how difficult it was to take down the terminator in the last film, you might think one now put to serving the good guys would be a powerful ally. Unfortunately, soon after they both catch up with John, it is revealed that this other person is a new, more advanced terminator made entirely of liquid metal called the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Every shot it absorbs mars its metal exterior, only to quickly morph back into its proper shape. And it is just as relentless in its drive to murder John as the T-101 is in protecting him. John and the T-101 barely manage to get away, but their next run-in comes when John decides that they must free Sarah from the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where she had been incarcerated for the past few years. She had been put there because her knowledge of what was going to happen to the world drove her to some extreme acts that landed her in trouble with the law, and her story was so unbelievable that they assumed she was out of her mind. When her desire to see her son is denied by her therapist, Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), she decides to attempt an escape on her own, seeing no alternative to her predicament. This happens to be the same night when T-101 and John and the T-1000 arrive at the institute. When she first sees the T-101, she initially panics, the nightmare of her previous experience with terminators bringing on overwhelming fear. It is John who is able to convince her that the machine is there to help. Once more, they flee before the T-1000 can catch up to them. This time they head south where Sarah has some friends and a stash of weapons, instruments they are going to need to fight the T-1000. Along the way, Sarah learns more about the events that will lead to the awful moment when the fabled computer program that creates the terminators, Skynet, takes over and launches the nuclear attack that pushes humanity to the brink. The person who is apparently most responsible is Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a scientist who used left over parts from the previous terminator to make several key technological breakthroughs. Initially, Sarah goes to his house alone with the intention of murdering him. However, she relents when she sees his family trying to protect him. Miles is also convinced of the awfulness of his work when John and the T-101 show up and Miles has a personal encounter with what will become of his work. Thus, he makes the decision to help the Connors and T-101 destroy everything pertaining to his developments. The resulting destruction attracts a horde of police officers, including the T-1000, and Miles dies blowing up the building where he worked. The T-101 and the Connors escape once more, and this time they are chased to a steel factory where vats of molten metal bubble away. There, they have their final encounter with the T-1000 that results in it being melted down. Yet, because the technology still remains with the T-101, it makes the decision that it must also die in order to stop that end of the world. Sarah and John bid farewell to the T-101, and head off into an uncertain future.
One thing we thought we were certain of with the end of Terminator 2: Judgement Day is that it prevented the scenario-to-be where mankind scrambled to survive while being locked in a death struggle with an army of killer robots. But then they had to go and make other movies in the franchise. I am one of the weird ones that does not mind Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), but the rest of the iterations are terrible in their unique ways. I do enjoy Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but the ones that come after it render parts of this one useless. A key theme in the 1991 film is fate. It echoes its predecessor when it says that there is no fate but that which we make. Such a concept as fate gets even trickier when you consider that these films also deal with time travel. If you know something terrible happens and you have the ability to stop it, should you not do everything to do so? In this light, would not stopping the apocalypse mean that John Connor would cease to exist? You can get yourself turned all around trying to puzzle out the ramifications of messing with time. Christianity has a sort of left-handed answer for these situations. Fate is a somewhat nebulous idea, though the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that man has free will. But if God knows what we are going to do before we do it, does that not make free will illusory? It is a seeming conundrum that theologians have been working on for centuries. For our cinematic purposes, if the title event does not occur, then the future that triggered John sending defenders to the past to first protect himself and then his mother would cease to exist. Yet, in the third film it is put forward that there is no stopping the awful things to occur. From a Christian perspective, that is a little like saying there is nothing we can do to improve our lot in life. There have been sects of Christianity that have thought along the same lines. Puritans, for example, believed in pre-destination. To them, God set the number of people who were going to get into Heaven, and there was nothing anyone could do to either be included or excluded from hereafter with God. Catholicism has always taught the opposite because God gave us a free will so that our choosing Him over so many other distractions in life becomes an act of Faith. The Terminator films have waffled between the two camps, though I am glad to be a part of one that says that our relationship with Him is a mutual gift.
It is rare when a sequel can outshine its predecessor, but that is what Terminator 2: Judgement Day did. As a Christian, I also appreciate how John teaches the T-101 to not kill indiscriminately. It is an extremely violent movie, but there is a certain restraint that is nice to see. I believe the only reason it was made, though, was for James Cameron to show off new moviemaking techniques he came up with, particularly with how he handled the T-1000. If you can handle all the shooting, these are kind of neat to see.