Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope, Al Matthews
Plot: Ripley (Weaver) has finally escaped the nightmarish horror of the Alien, but she is dragged right back to it, when humanity tries to colonise the hostile planet they discovered the eggs.
Sequels are rarely better than the original, but this movie is easily the exception that proves the rule. In fact, it is so good, it becomes hard to enjoy the original slow-burning horror in the same way.
At first glance, Aliens seems to have done the obvious thing and made the same mistake that most sequels make: the first one, but bigger. Cameron takes the horrific Sci-Fi monster from the first one, but throws more of them into the mix. It is hard to escape the feeling that Cameron was unable to escape the fact that the Alien was definitely cool, but no one ever got to see them duke it out with the good guys. Therefore, the terrified and complex engineers are replaced for your standard gung-ho military action heroes. Cameron puts all of these elements in the mix, builds the story up for the first act and when the time feels right, he reveals the Alien and cranks the accelerator to full throttle. The action and horror doesn’t stop until the end. However, Cameron does something with these terrible sequel trademarks that few other directors manage: they feel like a logical progression rather than a cash-in of the original product. The Alien mythology is expanded, so it makes sense to have more Aliens. The hordes of them rather than a solitary monster doesn’t turn these Aliens into cannon fodder. In fact, there is something very persistent and inevitable about these Aliens that terrifies the viewer. They are like Zombies, but quick, intelligent and they always win. The introduction of the military over civilians shows us that in the end, the characters still become reduced to terrified, lost people. No matter who these Aliens come up against, they still inspire fear into anyone.
Let’s go back to mythology, but I believe that is Aliens greatest success. Ridley Scott kept the Alien in the dark for a lot his original movie. It made sense as the anonymity of this random monster that bursts from your chest and bleeds acid was one of the terrifying elements. Who knows what is lurking out there in the deep vacuum of space? However, that trick couldn’t work twice. Aliens feels like we are zoologists learning about a new species for the first time. We are still relatively clueless to how these creatures really work, but a bigger picture is becoming clear. We understand their birthing cycle more; we understand their hive mind. Cameron offers some intelligent to add to the canon, without pushing Ridley’s idea too far, like we could argue happens with Alien: Resurrection. I also like how he doesn’t forget some of the smaller details of the first. Not only is the Alien mythology expanded, but we spend some time with the Face-Huggers, turning them into more than a narrative leap. Ripley’s character is built upon too. While some might argue that her motherly instinct slightly damages her feminist standing (motherly is an expected female hero stereotype after all), her character is deeper than before, yet still the incredible bad-ass that we have come to celebrate in cinematic history.
Another thing that I love about Aliens is that every scene feels relative here. There isn’t a moment that sticks out awkwardly in this movie. Everything has its place and plays out naturally. At the same time, Cameron injects cult status into everything he films. Maybe a god reason that Aliens is more celebrated than Alien is because it is easier to point to a moment and use it as an example for why this movie is so incredible. The machine-gun/grenade launcher being introduced and then later coming into action in an amazing sequence. Bill Paxton’s marine figure breaking down with some of the most memorable dialogue of the 80s. And of course, the final Alien that blew everyone’s minds when it first showed up on the big screen. While Alien was a great piece of cinema overall, and is probably the more intelligent creature, Aliens is a crowd-pleaser. A crowd-pleaser that never forgets to not abuse the original, which is a hard thing to come by these days.
Final Verdict: No matter how many times I watch this, I still love it like it is brand new to me. Aliens will have a special place in any movie lovers’ heart.