The Terminator perfectly displayed Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg as an effective villain and killing machine, reminiscent of a horror/slasher killer. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold flawlessly transitions from killer to heroic protector, and Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor also goes through a major change from a fearful woman to a strong mother determined to protect her son John.
After a major sci-fi feature like The Terminator, fans may have thought that it was impossible to follow it up with a sequel. However, by raising the stakes, the characterization, and the danger level, director James Cameron knew exactly what he was doing. This Terminator sequel also gave Cameron a chance to introduce John Connor, the leader of the human resistance in the future.
The Terminator made Arnold a household name, and rose him to superstardom. His physicality and his menacing appearance made him the right choice to take on the role of an evil cyborg. In Terminator 2, Arnold proved that he was also capable of portraying a good, tough, heroic machine, while still acting cool and stylish. If the first Terminator rocked 80s fashion, the Terminator in T2 owns the leather biker clothes.
The Terminator in T2, the T-800, is a convincing leading figure because it has the ability to combine seriousness and humor. For instance, when it asks for a biker's clothes and motorcycle at a diner in an early scene, the humor is that everyone thinks the T-800 is human and out of its mind, even though it's stern and dangerous. Even before it takes the biker's motorcycle, another man tries to stop the T-800 from driving away, but not only does the T-800 take away that man's shotgun, but also his cool pair of dark sunglasses.
The T-800's best scenes, of course, are his interactions with young John Connor (portrayed by the energetic Edward Furlong). They both have a lot of funny exchanges amidst all the violent action, such as when John explains to the machine how to talk in a cool manner, saying memorable quotes like "No problemo" and "Hasta la vista, baby!" John also explains to the cyborg that it can't kill people, which the T-800 questions but also acknowledges because its mission is to protect, not kill, and only wounds police officers and others in self-defense when necessary and/or threatened.
There are also intimate moments, such as when John briefly talks about his father, Kyle Reese, and how he wishes he met him, and that Kyle and Sarah were only together for one night. While John reflects on his sadness for his parents and Sarah's emotional journey, the T-800 asks John why he and people in general cry, to which John responds by saying that humans can feel hurt emotionally without being in physical pain. The father-son bond (or vise-versa) between John and the good Terminator is absorbing because both are fascinated by each other's actions. John tries to make the T-800 understand human emotions and the purpose of not killing so that the cyborg could act a little more human.
Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor isn't the same fearful woman she was back in the first film. In The Terminator, Sarah was scared and uncertain about why a machine disguised as a man wanted her dead, and how this level of technology was even possible to exist in 1984. She also wondered if Kyle Reese was a man she could trust, but with his knowledge of the future, as well as his love, care, and determination to protect her, Sarah became more aware of her mission, leading to her strong presence in T2.
Not only does Sarah embody Kyle in terms of becoming a strong, muscular fighter and survivor, but she's also a concerned mother who would do anything to protect her son from any evil threat. However, as strong as she has become, she still has a lot of emotional trauma due to her fight with the previous Terminator, and almost believes the T-800 in T2 is evil after seeing it for the first time as she tries to escape the Pescadero psychiatric facility. She's also scared that John could get himself hurt or killed if he tried to do anything dangerous or risky, like trying to rescue her from imprisonment.
There's a pivotal moment when Sarah is nearly successful in her attempt to kill Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the engineer who would become responsible for millions of deaths due to his technological work at Cyberdyne Systems, leading to the formation of Skynet and the nuclear disaster set for August 29, 1997 a.k.a. Judgment Day. However, Sarah is unable to pull the trigger because, despite all her anger and determination to stop Judgment Day, she's not a cold-blooded killer. When Sarah sees that John attempted to stop her from murdering Dyson, the mother and son have an emotional moment together because they both show that they truly care about each other and their willingness to survive together.
While not as scary as the original Terminator, the T-1000 (portrayed by the quietly menacing and intimidatingly sneaky Robert Patrick) is a villain with calm but deadly persistence. The special effects involved in the creation of the T-1000 is an extraordinary achievement in CGI, and three decades later, still holds up incredibly well. The T-1000, made up of liquid metallic alloy, is nearly indestructible. Whenever it's shot, sliced, or caught in an explosion, it can heal up quickly, leading to some spectacular action sequences that range from car and helicopter chases, shootouts, and hand-to-hand fights.
The Terminator sequels after T2 had decent moments in expanding the series, such as seeing older characterizations of John Connor, more advanced versions of evil Terminators, the return of Arnold multiple times as mostly good Terminators, and Linda Hamilton as an older Sarah Connor, as well as new heroic characters (both human and cyborg) who get in on the action. However, the sequels replicated the success of the first two features, especially the second film, by following the same formula of the Connors and their allies fighting alongside good cyborgs in order to take down bad machines.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the definitive sequel to The Terminator because, after the horror and fear from the first Terminator feature, T2 is a film about redemption, specifically for Sarah Connor, who is scared for her child's safety, and has a lack of optimism in surviving the upcoming war against Skynet. However, with her son by her side, and a good Terminator that serves as a resourceful ally and a father/son figure to John, she faces the future for the first time with hope. This sequel also shows how a machine like the T-800 can understand the meaning of human values, proving that even in a world where technology is evolving, humanity is still worth fighting for.