James Cameron at his finest.
My two favourite genres are sci-fi and action. This is probably the best combination of the two out there. The only film that comes close is Terminator 2. The fact this is a sequel is even more impressive. Writer/Director James Cameron takes what was great about the first one and up the ante ten times. The best aspects of the original were the strong female character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the alien species itself. Cameron expands both enormously well throughout this rare sequel that surpasses the original. The character of Ripley is explored further in this sequel where we learn about her maternal instincts through her interactions with a young girl called Newt, and her courage under fire in what is an Oscar nominated performance.
The movie opens with Ripley’s ship from the original Alien being found by chance in deep space. She is having traumatic nightmares after her first encounter with the alien which is causing her problems. She is also under investigation by her employers for destroying the large towing ship at the end of the first movie to ensure the alien wasn’t coming back. They do not believe Ripley’s story of the alien because the planet where she found it has now been colonised and there have been no evidence of the killer aliens Ripley describes. The company believes her to be crazy, until communication with the colonists is lost. They ask Ripley to go back to the Alien planet with a group of hardcore marines and investigate where the missing colonists are. The marines arrive to find that the aliens have multiplied from there being only one in the original to over a hundred on the colony. The film is one of the only sequels I can think of that attempts to change genres from its predecessor. The first film is a horror film, but this sequel is a straight up action adventure movie.
The marines are a great group and they all have great personalities. They’re able to establish a great report with each other and you really believe these guys have been working together for years. The actors were actually sent on a boot camp in England for a few weeks where these bonds and friendships were clearly forged. The standout marines are Hudson (Bill Paxton) and Vazquez (Jeanette Goldstein), both give memorable performances and have become fan favourites since the films release. Michael Biehn is also great as Hicks, the marine who it seems, is there mostly to be a love interest for Ripley a little later down the road. I’m glad they didn’t go this route, as I’m sure there would’ve been some studio pressure to have romantic interactions for Ripley, but it would’ve gone against her character, so I’m glad they avoided it.
Nearly twenty years later, the aliens are still impressive, especially the queen. She is another example of what a master Stan Winston was. From the Predator to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, he is a genius at creating movie monsters and making them look believable. The alien queen is no different, she is terrifying and huge. A great example of how Cameron managed to up the ante throughout this film when compared to the original.
This film is a pulsating thrill a minute, suspenseful action film. It does what many sequels are not able to do, it takes the original and goes to another level, surpassing the original. An original story, great directing and a strong performance from the cast, including a best actress Oscar nomination for Sigourney Weaver make this film so much more than a mere action film. This is one of the best, if not the best, action films of all time.
Aliens is a good example of a sequel that feels worlds away from the original. The budget is bigger, the special effects are better, and the tone is completely different. Where Alien is straight up horror, Aliens is an action flick. A pretty good one, but still wildly different than the first.
Thankfully this movie retains many of the strongest elements from the original film. A great cast is assembled, though it is less of an ensemble than the first time around. The aliens are made more horrifying, with the introduction of the queen and giving the audience a view of the nest. Sigourney Weaver returns as the strong female lead. But as I alluded to in my previous review, she sometimes seems too strong.
In the closing scene of Alien, Ripley records a report of the events that transpired in a very calm, even manner. I found this a bit odd. After all, the woman just lost all of her crew members to a murderous alien in a matter of days. She watched one of them violently burst out a man’s chest. And just when she thought she was safe, she’s forced to fight the extraterrestrial off one last time. You’d expect a little emotion while discussing what happened, right? OK, maybe she is in shock.
In Aliens, Ripley wakes up from hyper-sleep 57 years later and aside from nightmares seems basically fine. In fact, when she’s informed that her daughter has died she doesn’t seem that affected. Yes, she cries, but that’s it. I’m sorry, but wouldn’t she immediately question why her daughter died at the age of 67? The average age span now is closer to 80, and this is set even further in the future. Wouldn’t there be some shock or curiosity mixed in with the tears? After this she seems to adjust to life in the future fairly easy. She just soldiers on. Admirable, but not very realistic, in my opinion.
Then there is Ripley’s super human physical strength. There is no way she could have avoided being sucked out into space through the airlock by simply hooking her arms around the rungs of the ladder. OK, I’ll admit this is nitpicky, but it leads me to another point: she kills the alien queen the exact same way she killed the alien last time. Sucking the alien out the air lock was original the first time around, but borderline lazy this time around.
I’ll admit this is a very good action movie, but I prefer Ridley Scott’s darker, minimalistic vision to James Cameron’s explosions any day.