The problem with sequels is that they're forced to juggle the task of being a stand-alone story while simultaneously building off the success of their predecessors. Capturing the same feeling of another film and trying to expand upon it without alienating audiences is a feat that few filmmakers have ever accomplished - and coming across a sequel that actually eclipses its inspiration is even rarer.
The first Terminator movie was, in many ways, an '80s slasher flick. Released during the height of the genre's popularity, the film focuses on a young woman fleeing from a seemingly unstoppable force. In all honesty, it's a bit generic: the sci-fi setting gives the film a slightly different feel, but the film never truly sheds its genre baggage.
When Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released nearly 10 years later, many moviegoers were expecting more of the same - but that's not what they got. Instead, the film turned everything on its head: it wasn't simply a good Terminator movie, or a horror film, it was a better film in every possible way. Even now, 25 years after its debut, Terminator 2 is still considered to be one of the best sequels ever made.
So, why exactly does a film about a killer robot hold up better than most other movies?
It's impossible to watch Terminator 2 without noticing how amazing it looks. Again, the first Terminator wasn't a bad movie, but it's definitely a product of its time: it almost works as a library of slasher film tropes. Terminator 2, on the other hand, simply looks fantastic.
Everything about the movie's presentation is phenomenal: the cinematography, the editing and the color palette are all fantastic. On top of all that, the film's special effects and lighting are truly something to behold - not every movie can claim that its effects still hold up after more than two decades.
The pacing also deserves mention. Many action films devolve into hour-long shoot-outs with zero context or weight - however, Terminator 2 wisely pulls back on the action when the story dictates a more measured pace. Not only does this give the audience a chance to catch their breath, but it makes the action feel that much more impactful when it finally does kick off.
However, that's not really why the film is still so good, even to this day. Yes, the action and visuals and effects are fantastic - but none of that matters without a good story.
At first glance, Terminator 2 seems to follow a very similar story arc to that of its predecessor: one of the Connors has to flee from an extraordinarily powerful cyborg assassin sent back through time. However, while the first film was relatively straightforward, Terminator 2 uses this formula as a base, then throws a number of twists in to keep the film from feeling stale.
For instance, the original Terminator was all Sarah Connor running from the titular cyborg, and that's about it. Comparatively, Terminator 2 complicates things: at first, it's about John Connor running from the T-1000, then John and the T-1000 racing for Sarah, then back to the standard chase before launching into the film's finale. Speaking of the climax, the first half of the film's third act doesn't even feature the antagonist - instead, the film focuses on the heroes trying to destroy Cyberdyne's research before anyone else gets hold of it.
It's these tweaks that keep the film moving along at a steady pace, but without overcomplicating things. Terminator 2 does a great job of keeping things simple without sacrificing character complexity or narrative structure: it's always easy to tell who the bad guy is or what the good guys are trying to accomplish.
Of course, pacing doesn't matter if there are no great characters to root for, and it's here that the script truly shines. As previously stated, sequels are forced to expand upon previous stories without rendering them unrecognizable, and Terminator 2′s characters are a perfect example of how to do this right.
Let's start with Sarah Connor. As the only survivor of the original film, audiences get to see how her encounter with the first T-800 changed her. This is a woman that was broken by what she went through, whose very existence changed when she learned of what the future became. Compare this to most other horror film survivors, who typically either die or go unchanged, and it's easy to see why Terminator 2's characters feel so realistic.
Every single character is handled in such a way. John Connor goes from being a conniving little brat to someone who can actually lead others. The T-800 has to adapt and learn to understand the emotional side of humanity. Even Miles Dyson, a minor character, has to evolve after learning what his work does to humanity.
Terminator 2 is basically an example of why character is more important than any other aspect of film. Sure, there's some great action, and the movie looks gorgeous, but that doesn't matter if the audience isn't watching someone they genuinely care about. Moviegoers want to see characters that learn and grow - the fact that Terminator 2 manages to continue the arcs introduced in the first movie is icing on the cake.
So are there any parts of Terminator 2 that don't work?
Yes - though their impact on the film is minimal. John Connor can be an obnoxious little twerp, a few effects don't hold up anymore and the movie is very, very '90s - but again, these aren't issues that drag the movie down. It's easy to forgive a few minor annoyances when the rest of the film is so strong.
With the Fourth of July coming up, there's no better film to watch than Terminator 2. Not only does it satisfy everyone's innate desire to watch stuff explode in honor of our country's history, but there's actually a great film buried underneath all of the explosions. It's been 25 years since the film came out, and yet, watching it now is still just as fun as it was back in 1991.
And, if you're still reading this and you haven't seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day yet ... well, what are you waiting for?