There seems to be a skepticism about sequels, with the main argument being that they couldn't possibly live up to the original film. However, there are some sequels that broke this mold: Aliens, The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back come to mind. And while all of these films are indeed cinematic masterpieces that received near-universal acclaim, there is one that sits above them all.
This sequel is set apart from the rest as it was not only well-received, but it redefined the idea of what a sequel could truly become. It not only lived up to the original but surpassed it in so many ways. I present to you: Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Terminator 2 in cinemas. Back in 1991, nobody could have predicted T2 becoming the third highest grossing movie in history as well as being a critical darling. Now, on T2's 25th birthday, let's take a look at why it is the greatest sequel of all time.
T2 Built Upon A Rich Foundation
Remember back in the day when critically acclaimed films would be followed up by less-than-stellar sequels with the same plot but new characters? Although The Terminator probably could have pulled off numerous mildly successful direct-to-video sequels with machines hunting new attractive actresses, director James Cameron chose to continue the established characters' story in a compelling, surprising way.
At the end of The Terminator, we saw a pregnant Sarah Connor drive off into a thunderstorm. Flash forward ten years and she's a prisoner in Pescadero, California mental facility and her son John is growing up with quite the attitude toward his foster parents. And then, a new — more advanced — Terminator is sent back to kill him. But the ultimate twist is that the Terminator from the first film (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back to protect him. Thus, we find ourselves enthralled by these characters' lives once again as they embark on a new story driven by the same roots as its predecessor.
Terminator 2 wasn't just a sequel created for the sake of it; it took an amazing premise and explored stories alluded to in the original and expanded on them in a big way — making a damn entertaining film in the process.
Terminator 2 Ended The Story
Despite the film's evil chasing good setup being a familiar element of The Terminator, this only acted as a backdrop for the larger story — the destruction of Cyberdyne and saving the future. While the original film dealt with survival, Terminator 2 dealt with the idea of taking a stand and fighting back. As the iconic quotation from the film states: "The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make." It wrapped up the story that was set in motion by its predecessor.
Perhaps the film's most mind-blowing moment was when we find out that it was the original Terminator's hand and chip that led Cyberdyne to begin their work in the first place. In what is arguably the ultimate paradox, the original Terminator itself was responsible for the creation of Skynet. Just another example of the genius foreshadowing and strong writing in both films.
This deleted scene below from The Terminator highlights said foreshadowing and reveals exactly how Terminator 2 acted as the perfect conclusion to the story. Furthermore, it shows the creative genius of James Cameron. The entire basis of the sequel — Sarah fighting back — had been sewn into the first film.
T2 Is A Completely Different Movie
James Cameron's 1984 masterpiece The Terminator revolved around an invincible machine sent from the future to terminate Sarah Connor before she could parent a son that would go on to lead a resistance against the machines. The film relied on this plot alone and we had a straightforward, linear 100-minute thriller. The Terminator was its own monster.
However, Terminator 2 was a completely different beast. On the surface, it was a two hour action blockbuster with revolutionary special effects. Underneath it was a chilling warning about the dangers of humanity's reliance on technology (follow-up Terminator sequels also relayed this message, but not quite as successfully as T2). Through Cyberdyne's curiosity, humanity once again found itself in danger of a post-apocalyptic future. Sarah's monologue about the beauty of natural creation over material creation is one of the film's most powerful moments.
The biggest difference in T2 is Arnold Schwarzenegger's role as the Terminator. Yes, he once again portrays the iconic cyborg, but Cameron flipped the script and shockingly made the Terminator the protagonist of the film. This twist was undoubtedly a risky move — perhaps the most evil villain in cinema history was now a hero — but it paid off in a huge way.
Schwarzenegger's performance in T2 is even more highly-regarded than his performance in the original. Furthermore, the twist solidified the fact that T2 was a completely different film than its predecessor and revealed that this great sequel wasn't afraid to deviate to achieve its legendary heights.
Terminator 2's Character Development
In the eyes of many, a film is defined by the strength of its characters. If that's the case, then Terminator 2 absolutely excels in this category. The movie was rife with well written, strong-willed characters, each of them determined to succeed at their own goals. The change in Sarah Connor between the first and second film just highlights the extent of character development. She's no longer the frightened girl that she was in 1984. Instead, she's a battle-hardened woman who will stop at nothing to protect her son — it doesn't get much more compelling than that. Between films, the character went from afraid to action hero, and Linda Hamilton's strong performance reminded us why she is perhaps the most interesting character in the entire Terminator franchise.
An equally compelling arc in the film is the Terminator's own growth as a character. Starting off much like he was designed to — intimidating, stoic and not very talkative — the Terminator eventually becomes comedic, humorous and dare I say it? Even a little emotional. "I know now why you cry... but it is something I can never do" gets me every time.
The bond he had with John Connor stole the show and, by the end of the film, had us crying our eyes out. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong portrayed their respective characters perfectly and it was nice to see the Terminator having a kind of role model in the child who would become the future military leader.
Let's not forget the T-1000, played brilliantly by Robert Patrick, who was as formidable —if not more so — than Arnie's Terminator from the original. It's rare to get a villain as downright scary as Patrick's T-1000, but Terminator 2 pulled it off. The cast and characters of this film were one of the many shining lights in a movie full of them.
Terminator 2 Was Revolutionary
Not only was Terminator 2 a great film, it was a revolutionary visual spectacle. With incredible future war sequences and exploding office buildings, there was no shortage of awe-inspiring moments in T2.
However, its biggest FX success came in the form of the T-1000. The incredible effects used to create the liquid metal morphing sequences were out of this world. T2 helped put CGI visual effects on the map that would lead to the success of effects-heavy films like Jurassic Park.
Whether it was the Terminator's robotic face or the T-1000's morphing finger, the legendary Stan Winston was responsible for creating this visual masterpiece. And man, what a stunning piece of cinema history it is.
T2 Had A Deeper Message
Terminator 2 suggested the dangers of technology to us through the storyline. However, within that story lay an even deeper message, and it was the Terminator himself that was used to relay it to us — he became more human as he learned how to behave and think like a human. In this sense, the movie highlighted the importance of our humanity and raised the question of what it truly means to be human. This was summed up by Sarah Connor in the film's final moments. In what was originally supposed to be the ending of the Terminator franchise, the character suggests: "If a machine, a Terminator can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too." Perhaps this is exactly what the entire franchise was meant to be about in the first place.
Despite competition from the most elite of films, Terminator 2 is without a doubt the greatest sequel of all time. It wasn't just a follow-up, it was surprisingly different from its predecessor yet it managed to conclude the story in the most epic way that was ultimately loyal to The Terminator. The revolutionary masterpiece took an already compelling story and expanded on it, adding more depth, emotion and awe-inspiring moments to the franchise. But perhaps the main reason why Terminator 2 is the greatest sequel of all time is because it didn't just match the legendary original, it exceeded it.
Unlike even some of the best sequels, T2 never fell victim to the many tropes associated with them. Cameron didn't have to create a story to justify its existence as there was already more story that needed telling. It was also responsible for putting the Terminator franchise on the map and has since become the measuring stick for all sequels.
Hasta la vista, baby!
Do you think Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the greatest sequel of all time? Let us know in the comments!