Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn
Trying to make a sequel to a near-perfect film serves as no easy task because a justification must be made as to why this world needs more exploration. Fortunately, this franchise had enough material and juice for round two and in this instance, instead of being a horror film, Aliens takes its characters on an action extravaganza.
Following the events of Alien, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) reports her findings to what occurred on her last ship to negative results as her superiors do not believe her account of the events. It leads to her being stripped of her titles and then put on a mission to find a colony that has gone radio silent in search of research of these xenomorph creatures. She only agrees if she has the permission to obliterate all of the alien specimen she finds.
Not only does Aliens differ from the original film by one single letter, but also in its atmospheric tone and genre. Instead of Ridley Scott, James Cameron put this one together and it quickly shows with the visuals created. Instead of being a horror film, Cameron opted to make it action-packed, which he does incredibly well. It feels like a similar shift that Cameron utilized with the Terminator films where the first one had the appearance of a slasher film and the second one being a pure action spectacular. While Aliens has its own greatness, it did make the xenomorphs a bit less threatening in the process.
In Alien, only one xenomorph appears in the entirety of the film and the act of getting rid of just that one alien took the entire second half of the story. It made it feel menacing that all of these characters had to come together to take out this intelligent monster set on killing them. It made the xenomorph so threatening, but in Aliens, xenomorphs appear in the hundreds and while it creates for great action sequences, their individual impact feels lessened. It may be hard to consider this a critique because the end result came together to make one of the better action films of the 1980s, but when characters mow down a bunch of xenomorphs, it feels like they become faceless villains rather than an imposing figure that feels impossible to kill.
Aliens continues the story of Ellen Ripley and her unfortunate quest of constantly being told that her opinions and experiences are wrong. She experiences the horrible events in the first film and heroically survived when all of the others perished, but she still does not receive the proper respect, because of the capitalist ventures of these space expeditions. Instead of trying to advance science, it becomes clear that the individuals funding these missions only have a monetary goal set before them and Ripley continually gets stuck between doing the right thing and arguing with people that put profits over people. A battle that she continually wins but then gets put into that same dangerous cycle, unfortunately. Sigourney Weaver once again puts in a performance where she balances vulnerability and strength in the face of peril. It becomes quite clear that the marine-like crew sent with her to check in with the colony cannot handle the circumstances set before them, even if they were hailed to be these tough characters. Even when they lose their composure, Ripley ensures to remain calm and keep on with the mission.
As with any Cameron film, the action sequences alone provide the worth associated with the price of admission. All of the battles with the xenomorphs look clear even when trying to give a disorienting feel. It’s filmed in a way that puts the audience right in the action with the characters. In the 57 years between the two stories, technology has advanced so even when it feels like the characters are ambushed, they can still put up a fight. It makes for a scintillating action extravaganza where the crew members continually get picked off but they get closer to escaping the hellscape they have entered.
Everything culminates to the final showdown between Ripley and the queen of the xenomorphs. It stands out as one of the great action sequences in any action film where Ripley utters one of the most quotable lines from this franchise, “Get away from her you bitch.” If Ripley started her ascent as a character with her work in Alien then she became an icon in Aliens. It all comes together to create an action-heavy survival film for the ages that many consider better to the original. I may disagree with that sentiment, but this film provides so many sequences that I would not begrudge anyone for having that opinion. Aliens took a big swing in shifting much of what worked in the film that preceded it, and it resulted in one the greatest action films ever made.