Twenty-six years ago, director James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” dazzled movie audiences, and on Friday, Aug. 25, this film returns to the big screen at AMC Theatres everywhere. This time, however, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, and Edward Furlong will appear in 3D.
With mind-bending special effects and a wild premise, the sequel to the seminal original, “The Terminator” (1984), became 1991’s highest grossing film and influenced science fiction for a generation. Looking back, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is one of those rare movies that is better than the original, at least this particular critic thinks so.
Now, a vast majority of the time, the first film in a big screen series is the best, but not always. For fun, let’s explore cinema’s rolodex and identify those second movies that are better than the first. More than five movies could easily make this list, but here are five, including “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) – James Cameron’s sequel to his 1984 science fiction masterpiece completely recaptures a nail-biting atmosphere of an unrelenting, unstoppable and unfeeling cybernetic force in constant pursuit of its prey, however, two new onscreen factors in 1991 top the original film. Admittedly, the first is simply a factor of time, as Cameron discovered onscreen technologies which offered mind-blowing special effects. The new T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick) morphs into various shapes that induce massive wonder and new fears. Secondly, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his most iconic role, but injects so much new humor and personality (e.g. “Hasta la vista, Baby!”, “No problemo.”) as a terminating good guy, the sequel adds an additional popcorn film dimension while keeping an equal amount of heart-pounding angst.
“Before Sunset” (2004) – Writer/director Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995) is a movie about a magical and organic chance encounter between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who meet on a train. Nine years later, he continues their story in Paris in “Before Sunset”, in which the on-screen characters’ lives have fast-forwarded nine years too. The conversational structure of the first film remains intact in the second, as Jesse and Celine walk, take a taxi/limo and ride a boat through The City of Lights. They express their feelings, fears, hopes, and desires via a rich and rewarding script written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. The three deeply know and love these characters, and so do the “Before Sunrise” fans (and include me in this group). Hence, a second chance to experience their continued journey feels like an elevated, rewarding and generous gift during the film’s entire 80-minute runtime.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – The first 45 minutes of “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) begins as a solid introduction to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) transforming from a 90-pound weakling to good ole Cap! Soon after though, the script begins to feel thin, and Captain America’s flag waiving, Boy Scout routine wears a bit thin as well. Conversely, the 2014 sequel wraps itself in espionage, intrigue and double-crosses, as Steve Rogers teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to fight the forces of Hydra which emanate from very, very unsuspecting places. During a fast-paced, quickly-moving narrative with plenty of metropolitan chases and shootouts, Rogers further develops his healthy skepticism about simply following orders. One of the very best pictures in the Marvel Universe.
“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” (1987) – Director/co-writer Sam Raimi’s follow-up to “The Evil Dead” (1981) is insane. Wonderfully, beautifully insane, and very unexpected, because the first few minutes of “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” is a pseudo-remake/recap of the 1981 movie, but then it takes sharp left, right, up, and down turns and detours. Like the first film, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend, Linda, drive to an isolated, rundown cabin in the mountains for rest and relaxation but run into violent demons instead. Note that in “The Evil Dead”, Ash and Linda were joined by three others on their drive, but the major differences in this movie are a bigger budget for gorier special effects and a shift in tone towards jarring, demented humor. For example, Ash’s hand – possessed by a demon - delivers a middle-finger salute towards our hero, but not before he cuts it off from his own arm while screaming, “Who’s laughing now?” Well, we are…surprisingly.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) – After a lackluster big screen debut in 1979, the Star Trek crew returns with a swashbuckling space adventure that arguably stands as the very best entry in the series. The old saying goes that an action/adventure movie is only as good as its villain, so thankfully, Khan (Ricardo Montalban) returns as one of the USS Enterprise’s chief antagonists. Bent on revenge, Khan simultaneously wishes to punish Kirk (William Shatner) and acquire - and then warp - the powerful Genesis device to use it for evil. Looking back to 1982, the special effects do not hold up, but Montalban’s fearsome portrayal of a brilliant - but flawed - madman stands the test of time. This Star Trek installment also includes the biggest shock from any of the 13 films, spanning 38 years.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.