We all know how tricky facelifts can be. Those who go under the knife seldom look better; just, well… different. The same goes for cosmetic surgery of the cinematic kind. On the one hand, there’s the type of pointless fussing and defacement perpetrated by George Lucas on the original Star Wars trio. On the other, there’s the discreet tidying-up Ridley Scott did on Blade Runner: The Final Cut and the 3D manipulation James Cameron performed on Titanic. Both were models of intelligence, know-how and self-restraint. Now, writer-director Cameron gives a characteristically savvy 3D treatment to his 1991 masterwork Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but the best part about it might be simply having the thing back on the big screen, where it truly belongs.

The great action sci-fi movie of the ‘90s, remastered and reissued in immersive 4K 3D, holds up like a champ. Seeing it writ large, with the volume cranked up to 11, is a rush, and not just a nostalgic one. Cameron’s first Terminator, in 1984, which he co-wrote with Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr., was a thing of beauty: Sharp, frill-free and nightmarish, it easily could have been a standalone. But Cameron’s brawny, visionary sequel justifies its existence on so many levels.

The action kicks off 10 years after the original left off, and the narrative follow-through is clean, lean simplicity itself. Troubled punk kid John Connor (squeaky-voiced newcomer Edward Furlong, a natural) is predestined to grow into the leader of a people’s resistance movement against the rise of the machines. His mother Sarah (an iconic Linda Hamilton) has been thrown into a psychiatric hospital, locked away to silence her dire warnings about the fate of humanity. Then, from the future come two cyborgs: a T-1000 shape-shifter (Robert Patrick, perfectly icy and otherworldly) sent to slaughter young John, and the ferociously protective T-800 warrior played by an in-his-prime Arnold Schwarzenegger, spouting one-liners, kicking ass and, mercifully, rarely being asked to emote. Once Sarah gets sprung from the institution, she, Arnie and her son become a heartbreaking little family unit as they battle futuristic bad guys in a series of masterful set-pieces.

More impressive and resonant, though, is how they live under the constant terror of the singularity, let alone nuclear annihilation. Doesn’t that strike a familiar chord these days?

Sure, to a modern viewer, some of the once state-of-the-art effects look dated. But, unlike today’s CGI-fests, at least T2’s explosions, speeding vehicles and breakneck chases feel real, tangible, capable of inflicting actual harm. For those who’ve seen the movie a ton of times, the addition of 3D offers no mind-blowing revelations, no coming-at-ya revisions to those liquid metal CGI effects that ruled their decade. The multi-dimensional stuff here is more about separating actors from backgrounds and giving the interiors and vistas a sense of depth. The technical wizardy still impresses, though, because it’s always in service of Cameron’s lean narrative and characters. Sharp-eyed types might spot how SFX wizards have digitally plunked Arnie’s face on the bodies of some pretty obvious stunt doubles, but hey, it’s all part of the charm. It’s well worth a trip to your local cinema to check out Terminator 2: Judgment Day, again or for the very first time.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Read more of Stephen Rebello’s movie reviews here.