When you hear the word “sequel”, there are certain expectations.

Sequels, as a rule, take what the audience enjoyed about the first installment and present the same thing in a new form.  The main changes are often quantitative: everything is bigger and more impressive, the story’s scope is broader, the stakes are higher.  Name just about any sequel and you’ll see those same formulas and patterns.

That said, Terminator 2: Judgement Day blows my mind.

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This movie took every run-of-the-mill pattern a sequel is supposed to follow and went in a completely different direction.  It broke every rule.  It took gigantic risks.  It was much more ambitious than any sequel had the right to be.

And somehow, everything worked.

The story was incredible.  It arguably became more iconic and beloved than the original.

I want to examine four ways Terminator 2: Judgement Day broke the sequel mold.  I’ll compare what a normal sequel would have done and what this sequel did differently.  Let’s get into it.

Switching Protagonists

What a Normal Sequel Would Have Done:

The Terminator franchise is Sarah Connor’s story.  This new movie must center around her as well.

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What Terminator 2 Did:

Sarah Connor will still be a protagonist but the spotlight will be on two new characters: Sarah’s son John Connor and the Terminator from the last movie.  Last time, it was the focus was on the relationship of protection and love between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese.  This time, it will be on the curiosity and father-son-like bond between a boy and his guardian.

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Switching Genres

What a Normal Sequel Would Have Done:

Terminator is a thriller-horror story.  We have a monster chasing an innocent girl, and a dashing young warrior from the future swooping in to save her.  In this sequel, the stakes must be higher.  The bad guy must be more sinister and stronger, perhaps more intelligent.  The good guys should have even less of a chance–until the end, when they pull through.

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What Terminator 2 Did:

We need to go bigger, but our priority should be to go deeper.

There are so many interesting themes in this story and we’re going to explore them all: What is sentient life and where does artificial intelligence fit in?  Can a computer experience emotions and build relationships with people?  Is it just to take an innocent life to prevent the apocalypse?  Can we really change the future?  Can the desire to protect end up ruining a mother-son relationship?  Can a robot be a father figure?

Last movie was a mindless thriller.  This one will bend genres somewhat: it will be an action thought piece.

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Changing the Personality of a Protagonist

What a Normal Sequel Would Have Done:

Sarah Connor plays an iconic role in a classic story.  She’s the damsel in distress.  She has a strong heart and cares deeply for the life of her son.  She is paired with a protector whose physical strength compliments her emotional resilience.  That’s how these stories go.

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What Terminator 2 Did:

Since the last movie, Sarah Connor has become a hardened fighter who didn’t need anyone but herself to protect her own life and that of her son.  Before, she was a pure helpless girl.  In this movie she’ll be unrecognizable.

We’ll start her out in an insane asylum that she’s made it her mission to break out of.  We’ll give her contacts with illegal arms dealers across the Mexican border.  Everything about her will be calculating, rough, and grim.  We’ll even take away the close mother-son bond the audience expects, and replace it with a strained relationship that has barely survived Sarah’s burdensome drive to protect her son and his future.

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Overturning the Premise of the Subgenre

What A Normal Sequel Would Have Done:

The premise of the Terminator franchise is that the robots have taken over in the future.  Robots are the bad guys.  Humans are the good guys.  That’s the story we’re telling.  Last time we had a robot trying to kill a human.  This time, we’ll have a bigger, badder robot trying to kill a human.  Simple.

What Terminator 2 Did:

Last time, the robot was the bad guy.  This time robots are the good guys.  And the bad guys.  If that makes the audience’s perception of the oncoming apocalypse less clear–good!  We can explore deeper themes this way.

We’ll even make the robot one of the most emotionally complex characters in the movie.  That way, throughout our action movie, we can also retell Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein using modern science fiction motifs and symbolism.

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—–

I honestly don’t understand how all of this worked out so perfectly.

All the changes in character structure, character personality, and genre were presented in a way that the audience somehow accepted right off the bat.  It was engaging and it felt natural.  Most impressive for me are the themes.  I can’t think of another movie that dealt with SO MANY themes.  At no point did the story feel overstuffed in any way whatsoever.

It’s sad that such a powerful franchise only ended up with only one installment like this.  There was so much potential.  If you look at the rest of the sequels, what do you see?  Bigger, badder, flashier, higher stakes, old catch phrases, old cameos.

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The Sarah Connor Chronicles at least attempted to expand on Judgement Day’s themes in an honest, interesting way.  I never saw Salvation, but I expect they at least made an attempt at changing up the genre towards a more military action style.

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One day, I hope to see another installment in this franchise that is as groundbreaking as Judgement Day was.  After all, in the words of Sarah Connor at the very end of the story:

The luxury of hope was given to me by Terminator [2: Judgement Day, the movie].

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(Well, almost in the words of Sarah Connor…)

Until next time, like the Facebook Page and follow me on Twitter for new posts every other week!  Make sure to share the post if you enjoyed!  Thanks for reading!

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