Adorkable: The T-800's every attempt at mimicking human emotions has it come across as an enthusiastic but naive Manchild; the stiff and literally parroted "I swear I won't kill anybody" scene in particular is an amusing example of this. Even more amusing when you remember what he looks like without his skin.
Angst? What Angst?: John Connor doesn't seem too disturbed or disheartened by the news of his foster parents getting killed by the T-1000. In fact, their deaths are forgotten as soon as they're revealed. That they were generally a pair of jerks mildly justifies it, but it doesn't make it less surprising. Worth mentioning is that he doesn't seem too concerned whether his dog Max is okay or not either.
Award Snub: James Cameron was so impressed with Linda Hamilton's performance and her dedication to the role (she lost twelve pounds during filming because of her aggressive training regimen) that he campaigned for her to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. He was unsuccessful.
Catharsis Factor: The T-1000, being the utterly unrelenting, cold, murderous, ruthless and seemingly unstoppable machine he is, being melted down in the molten lava is pure satisfaction incarnate.
Draco in Leather Pants: Sarah gets toted as a paragon for feminism and an excellent role model by a lot of fans, but this ignores that she now has a Hair-Trigger Temper, has been sectioned because of how dangerous she is, repeatedly mistreats her own son, and is prepared to murder an innocent man over something he hasn't even done yet. She essentially borders on Villain Protagonist, and it is only a fortunate Heel Realization that she refrains from doing the last mentioned act (and she still acknowledges even a robot killer would be a better parent than her). James Cameron even said she wasn't meant to be a role model.
Even Better Sequel: The film is commonly held to be one of the best movie sequels of all time, and many fans prefer it to the original. Its tonal shift from horror to action made it much more appealing to a wider audience. Also, the story is seen as tighter, there's better Character Development, the effects are better, and there's even some relatively sharp (if simple) philosophical consideration on the nature of intelligence, fatherhood and responsibility.
Fanon: That the redhead girl played by Nikki Cox that tells the T-1000 that John went to the Galleria is a young KateBrewster.
Fan-Preferred Cut Content: After years of Sequelitis, fans began looking far more favorably on the cut alternate ending, which showed a grown up and middle-aged John Connor working happily as a U.S. Senator to prevent futures like the Robot War from coming about, while he and an elderly Sarah enjoy time with her grandchildren. Come the release of Terminator: Dark Fate in 2019 (very close to the same date of the alternate ending), where John Connor is unceremoniously killed as a child, only for a new evil AI and new Resistance to replace him and Skynet, and many fans argue that even following the timeline of the alternate ending would have been more interesting than what they got in Dark Fate.
This film took the basic Terminator Twosome premise of the original but accelerated the action elements to the apex with then-mind-blowing special effects with the T-1000. The resulting blockbuster success resulted in every subsequent part of the franchise trying to either up the ante or otherwise remind audiences of everything that made this film such a success, which had diminishing returns.
Although Cameron claims it was always his intention to do so, this film took the perfectly Stable Time Loop of the first film - where everything in the future is inexorable so everything in the past inexorably leads to it as well - and blew it wide open for fans questioning about paradoxes and future films having different takes on the timeline and time travel.
The It's the Same, Now It Sucks! aspects of the later movies, where others have criticized the sequels for recycling too many plot points and elements from the first two movies, were also present here, with many plot elements and even the same basic plot structure being reused from the original movie: To sum both films up, both the hero and villain arrive, get clothing and ammo, search for the target during the first act, finally meet at the end of said act and fight over trying to protect/kill the target. The hero saves the target, has another encounter with the villain at some sort of law or government sanctioned building (police station in the original; mental institution here), and eventually escape and go into hiding for a bit. The villain finally comes upon the heroes again and chases after them, even managing to get a successful shot off that wounds one of the heroes, and eventually commandeers a tanker truck midway through the chase after the original vehicles crash. After the tanker truck has been destroyed it seems like the villain has finally been killed, only to turn out to be even more resilient than anyone imagined. They eventually wind up in some sort of foreboding building structure with limited places to escape, where both the hero and villain die in the climax. So the film was recycling elements from previous films as early as this one. However, the noticeable difference is the Genre Shift from an action-horror film in the original to a straight action film here, and which arrivee from the future is the villain is actually ambiguous until that moment of "get down", so the recycled plot elements were done differently enough to not generate complaints of it being a rehash. Due to the later sequels keeping the tone as a straight up action-oriented one, the recycled plot elements became far easier to notice.
James Cameron first thought of casting Michael Biehn as the T-1000, but ultimately decided that Kyle's actor now being the Terminator would be confusing. Cue Terminator Genisys, and John Connor himself is forcibly turned into a shapeshifting Terminator.
As if the nuclear nightmare scene weren't bone-chilling enough already, try watching it in post 9/11 times. As if to prove this point, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Genisys, both of which were made after 9/11, would massively tone down their respective depictions of Judgment Day.
Terminator: Dark Fate turned this film into a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story by applying a Happy Ending Override by opening with a third T-800 gunning down John. It also made "Uncle Bob's" sacrifice meaningless by revealing that he wasn't even the Last of His Kind; a Terminator ("Carl") literally lives in hiding for decades without bringing about Skynet's birth. Worst still, it's possible that if "Uncle Bob" hadn't decided to sacrifice himself, he could've stopped "Carl". Additionally, it's later confirmed that while John and Sarah did destroy Skynet, something else, Legion, replaced it. All of these mean that even if John were still alive, his and Sarah's efforts were for nothing.
He Really Can Act: The first film may have been his Star-Making Role, but this was really where Arnold Schwarzengger started winning people over with the idea that he was more than just a body-builder-turned-action-hero-movie-star, but an actual actor. Carrying the bulk of the film with the same restrained, machinelike, Uncanny Valley-invoking performance he gave in the first film, delivering several important expository speeches, and gradually adapting and evolving to more effectively mimic humanity, and perhaps even gain humanity in some small measure by the end. For all the fantastic action setpieces, many of the film's most memorable moments are its emotional ones, many of which hinge on the characters' and/or audience's emotional connection to the cyborg killing machine played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. A connection that simply wouldn't exist believably if Schwarzengger wasn't a capable actor.
Jeanette Goldstein, codifier of Vasquez Always Dies, gets killed off again here (and she would again in Titanic (1997)). However, her character (John's foster mom) is far more feminine than the butch, more hardened Sarah Connor of this film. So Vasquez always does die, even when she's not Vasquez.
It Was His Sled: The idea that the Terminator - at least, the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 version portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger - was the hero of the movie was meant to be a surprise on its first release, as the advertising still played him up as the bad guy (outside of one ill-conceived trailer). Now, any Terminator played by Schwarzenegger is assumed to be the good guy, and it's commonly known that this is where it started.
Jerkass Woobie: Sarah Connor is not exactly the most pleasant person in this film. A harsh, militant woman who barely gives the son the affection he needs and nearly murders an innocent man over something he hasn't even done yet. Given everything that she'd gone through before, it's easy to see where all of that came from.
The Terminator—second Cyberdyne Model T-101 introduced—was captured by John Conner and the Resistance in the future and reprogrammed before then being sent back to protect John as a young boy. First tracking John to his foster parents' house and then to the local mall, the Terminator smuggles his shotgun in through a box of roses, counters the T-1000's first attempt on John there and then rescues him again in a high-speed chase. The Terminator then tricks the T-1000 into giving away that he's murdered John's foster parents and is imitating his foster mother and tells John that he can't help him save his mother Sarah because the T-1000 will get to him easily. Pledging not to kill anyone and helping save Sarah anyway, the Terminator then helps blow Cyberdyne up so as to undo Skynet's existence while also wounding or attacking an army of cops all without causing any deaths. After finally destroying the T-1000, the Terminator has himself sacrificed as another means of preserving the future, proving to Sarah he developed compassion for humans that she didn't think a killing machine could have.
The T-1000 is a sleek Terminator with a proclivity for subterfuge and deceit, using its knowledge of human behavior and shapeshifting capabilities in its hunt for John Connor. Tracking down John by cleverly using police officer get-up to ask for information around town, the T-1000 nearly kills John several times over, only thwarted by the reformatted T-800, aka "Bob." The T-1000 murders John's foster parents and tries to lure him home disguised as his mother, then tracks down his real mom, Sarah, under the correct assumption that John will run to her. Even when evaded consistently, the T-1000 always finds new ways to track and hunt its prey, stealing cars and helicopters to assist while quickly disposing of anyone in its way. The T-1000 thrashes "Bob" in a physical fight, stabs Sarah to draw John out, and transforms into Sarah herself in a final attempt to assassinate John. With its unique use of its liquid metal physiology and an amusingly deadpan attitude, the T-1000 is a terrifying, awesome presence, and one of the premiere Killer Robots in film history.
Did you know the scene where the T-1000 walks through the bars is unscripted? Originally it called for the T-1000 to simply cut open the door and walk through, but Robert Patrick was so committed to the role that he walked through the jail door bars as if he really was a liquid metal machine, and the filmmakers loved it so much they left it in.
John's friend for lying to the T-1000 about if he knows John and later trying to stall him, prompting jokes that he unknowingly saved the human race. Also helped that he's played by Danny Cooksey in a case of Retroactive Recognition.
This movie is legendary online for being one of those films that can make men cry without shame. A common joke goes something along the lines of: "There are two times in a man's life when it is acceptable for him to cry in public. The first is at the birth of his child, the second is at the ending of Terminator 2".
T-800 asking John Connor's foster mother a pop culture question on the phone, with their answer being either of Fandom Heresy or one to expect of a non-fan, verifying John's foster parents are dead.
Likewise, the above scene has also garnered jokes that the T-800 should have thrown off John's "foster mom" by telling her that "John" is going to Mt. Everest/the Arctic/Chernobyl/some other faroff, remote, and deadly location or that he's going to kill himself or that he's not going to be home for an hour to stall it while the T-1000 proceeds to do house chores (including cooking that stew) in the meantime. Another joke from the same scene is what if John's foster dad wanted to get it on with his "wife" in the kitchen.
That the scene of the T-1000 killing Max was removed to appease John Wick.
Slipping through bars, especially if the gap is small, is often compared to the T-1000 melting through the bars at the hospital. Most popularly, a gif of a small fluffy dog squeezing through a penned door in a hallway edited in place of the T-1000's scene has circulated around the Internet.
That nowadays, John Connor would spout off modern-day memes/phrases for the T-800 to take after.
That any scientific discovery involving liquid metal is another step towards the T-1000 happening, not helped that a lot of news articles report these discoveries as being part of the process in someday making some technological advancement like robots. For instance:
A lightweight liquid metal alloy that is less dense than water could be used to make exoskeletons and transformable flexible robots.
"THE GALLERIA?" for the T-1000's confused reaction to the girls telling him that John went to the mall.
The T-1000 tag trending a couple of times on Twitter in 2020 prompted jokes that 2020 was going to go From Bad to Worse because the T-1000 was sent back to 2020 to kill humanity's savior.
The scene where the T-800 gives a thumbs-up after being lowered down into molten lead, thus ensuring that Skynet won't rise because his chip is destroyed. Not only is it one of the film's Signature Scenes, but anytime a character finds themselves in a similar situation, this is usually referenced.
Whatever unease Sarah's Judgment Day nightmare brings often gets lost whenever any sort of reaction or explosion meme uses this scene to compliment it.
Sarah's transformation into an Action Girl in this film was shown at several points to be a result of her PTSD after the first film, she became a domestic terrorist put into a mental hospital, and had John taken away from her. Her breakout from the hospital is especially violent and shows some misandric attitudes talking with Dyson. But seeing that transformation into a badass falls right into escapist fantasies, plus her Cassandra Truth, which helped create Sarah as an iconic female action hero all while ignoring just how fundamentally unstable she is.
Moral Event Horizon: If murdering John Connor's foster parents didn't send the T-1000 over, then torturing Sarah Connor as bait for John did. The T-1000 is a special case, because unlike other Terminators, the T-1000 is a fast-learning model both sentient and fully capable of human emotion, to the point where even Skynet was scared away from mass-producing it.
The T-1000's wide-eyed confusion to the girls telling him that John went to the Galleria seems a bit narmy for how weird he reacts, but it makes sense since Uncanny Valley is his Character Tic (especially since his true nature isn't revealed until a little later), and a deleted scene that continues from there has him ask the girls where the Galleria is since he doesn't know.
The T-1000 trying to catch up to the bike-riding John on foot can look a bit silly, but it's still a tense scene. Plus, Robert Patrick was actually running that fast, having trained with a sprinter for his role.
The T-800 giving a thumbs-up as he sacrifices himself should be incredibly cheesy and saccharine but the way it's directed and the music make it a genuinely emotional moment.
Nightmare Retardant: The T-1000's glitches in the Special Edition. In fact, this trope was the entire reason Cameron left it out of the original theatrical release, as he felt that it distracted from the tension of the film. Part of the draw of the movie, as many professional critics noted, was that audiences weren't able to figure out—right up until the end—what could actually hurt the T-1000.
No Problem with Licensed Games: The arcade game based on the film, which was and still is a pretty well-regarded shooting game. The home console ports of the arcade game have more of a mixed reception, but are usually seen as okay.
Older Than They Think: Jody Watley's 1987 song "Looking for a New Love" already used the catchphrase "Hasta la vista, baby."
Michael Edwards has less than a minute of screentime and no lines, but his appearance as the adult John Connor in the prologue has remained a favourite of fans, one that the three actors to portray him in future movies (Nick Stahl, Christian Bale, and Jason Clarke) still have not lived up to. It may be because the prologue frames the future John as a mythic figure, whose commanding, war-hardened, scarred yet soulful countenance was simultaneously enigmatic and self-explanatory: one could easily accept that this was the legendary savior of humanity, despite his lack of screentime and dialogue. The later films attempted to flesh him out and have him be much more involved in the plots, but he lost much if not all of his mystique as a result.
When the T-1000 clings onto the getaway car of John, Sarah, and the T-800 during the escape from the hospital, the guard that T-800 kneecapped earlier can be briefly seen pulling in his legs when the car suddenly rams through the gate.
During the climatic highway chase, the T-1000 grows an extra pair of arms so that it can both pilot the helicopter and take shots at our heroes.
In general, T2 is a lot better about this than the previous entry, because Cameron and his SFX crew actually knew what they were doing this time thanks to experience and they had a much larger budget to work with. The issue here is that this time they were pushing the absolute limits of what film technology in the early 90s was capable of. So, especially in hindsight, there are some rough bits:
When the T-800 first shoots at the T-1000 for the first time at the mall, the first bullet hole is already in the T-1000 before it recoils from the shot.
Minor example, but a good eye can spot when Leslie Hamilton-Gearren is being used as a double. In contrast to the military-esque training routine Linda Hamilton was on, Leslie only had to "hit the gym for a few hours a week". So the difference in body types is noticeable. It's also quite obvious during the Drain scene that there are stunt doubles on the motorbike.
Schwarzenegger's metal facial prosthetics are pretty obvious, especially the unmoving robot eye.
When the wrecker crashes into the overpass at the climax of the canal chase, the dummy behind the wheel is incredibly obvious.
While the T-1000 effects still look pretty good, it's really not hard to tell when it's CGI and when it's Robert Patrick wearing silver blast holes on his body as the CGI looks appropriately shiny compared to the significantly duller look of the prosthetics. (Granted, this is in the new century with HD available; in theaters, it was a bit cleaner, assisted by the "wow factor" of the time.)
Likewise, the first display of the T-1000 healing his bullet holes is very clearly just CGI painted over Robert Patrick. Another example where wow factor hid it in 1991, but decades of evolution of this precise technology (blending actors and CGI) make this early attempt much more obvious in comparison.
Tough Act to Follow: None of the movies that followed Terminator 2 were as well received and successful. Even its canonical sequel, Terminator: Dark Fate, produced by James Cameron himself, while receiving higher ratings than the previous sequels, is still considered inferior.
Unintentional Period Piece: Unfortunately for the filmmakers, fashion and music changed radically in a very short time in the early nineties. The grunge and gangsta rap scene replaced the colorful fashions and upbeat music of the early '90s (think hairbands, MC Hammer, and Vanilla Ice) almost overnight. Through most of the film this isn't evident, but Guns N' Roses had a hard fall by the mid-nineties and the two guys who attempt to help John (and nearly get killed for it) are wearing painfully early-nineties fashions.
"The Terminator films are not really about the human race getting killed off by future machines. They're about us losing touch with our own humanity and becoming machines, which allows us to kill and brutalise each other. Cops think of all non-cops as less than they are, stupid, weak, and evil. They dehumanise the people they are sworn to protect and desensitize themselves in order to do that job."
The T-1000 completely blew the audience's minds when Terminator 2 came out and still looks amazing today, to the point it barely looks different from the new T-1000 from Terminator Genisys despite 24 years having passed between both films. There's a reason Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park are credited for the CGI revolution.
The practical effects, too, are praiseworthy. Of particular note is how Linda Hamilton's twin sister, Leslie, contributed to many key scenes such as Sarah's nightmare (she portrayed the alternate version of Sarah in the dream sequence), a cut scene where Sarah is working on the Terminator (a fake mirror was set up with Linda and Arnie in the "reflection" while Leslie mimed her sister on a fake head), and the final battle (Leslie portrayed the T-1000 mimicing Sarah).
The Woobie: Try, just try, not to feel even remotely bad for Miles Dyson. A nice and loving family man, Miles was hoping to use the discovered technology from the previous T-800's remains to create a better life for humanity. He's nearly murdered in front of his family by an unstable Well-Intentioned Extremist who has a misandrist attitude towards him, and then receives an extra Gut Punch when he immediately discovers that the technology he creates will, rather than help life like he was hoping, end up causing the worst case of human genocide in history. Then he does his best to help the T-800 and Sarah destroy all traces of his work to ensure the threat of that scale never happens, and ends up getting killed for it. And if you take any of the sequels into account, it means his sacrifice still ended up being for nothing.
Woolseyism: The famous line "Hasta la vista, baby!" became "Sayonara, baby!" in the Spaniard dub. It became just as popular in Spain as the original in America.