Sequels are in almost all cases a prospect of diminishing returns. You can put your characters through similar (but larger) circumstances, but run the risk of the audience getting complacent with you showing them something familiar. You can completely shift the genre and tone to keep things fresh, but there’s a good chance you alienate the audience for not revisiting what they connected to in the original. It’s a tricky business to find the parts of the world a film left unexplored and explore them in a way that doesn’t tread on the source material, to give both something new and something familiar at the same time. Very few sequels appear on the list of the best 250 films ever, and if you discount the films that are part of a planned larger story and not just simply a second serving it cuts the number down to next to nothing. Yet there is one film that really bucks the trend, that manages to both raise the stakes and change the landscape but also expand the film’s universe and pay homage to the source material, and while it’s being a rare sequel that surpasses the original it’s also managing to be one of if not the finest-crafted action film ever made – Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
After the first attempt at assassinating future human resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong) by sending a cyborg back in time to terminate his mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), a second pair of hunter and protector are sent through time with a young John as their target; this time, John’s guardian is a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) guarding him from an experimental and advanced infiltration unit, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). The sequel discards most of its horror roots and fully embraces the action blockbuster genre, and the variety of vehicle chases, shoot-outs, and effects-laden cat-and-mouse hunts remain some of the most grandiose and epic moments in cinema history. Yet it’s the characters that drive the story forward: the synopsis of the film may read like robots from the future fighting each other, but much of the narrative is devoted to a little boy finding a father figure and a machine (and us, war-mongering humans, by proxy) learning the value of human life. There’s not been a film with as many explosives, bullets, and high-octane chases that’s also backed by an intelligent script, characters with depth, and a greater meaning beyond all the action either before or since this one – it blows away any competition with a firm, “Hasta la vista, baby.”