The Movie Review: Aliens
Rating: 3 and 1/2 Stars
Just as the title suggests, instead of one alien this time, we are met by many.
Aliens follows Alien not only in story, but in style for its first hour. The vaunted colonial marines doubt that the xenomorphs are going to show up.
Sigourney Weaver knows better though. Weaver reprises her role as Ripley, who survived her first alien encounter, and is now in financial trouble for the cargo ship she caused to self-destruct. Ripley is informed that a colony was built on the same planet the xenomorph eggs were found.
If it wasn’t obvious by the first film, the Weyland corporation is captivated by the idea of capturing an alien and studying it for militaristic use.
Ripley is bid to due the corporate job for Weyland again unbeknownst to her and the marines sent along with her. They’re sent to investigate what happened to the colony when contact is lost. Ripley initially doesn’t want to go back, but duty calls.
The soldiers for the most part are wisecracks without a care in the world, but as the film rolls along, a few standouts emerge. Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope), who serves as the captain of the mission, stands out very early on when he hints that he has very little combat experience.
The soldiers land on the planet and arrive to a ghost town that’s been ransacked. This is when the film becomes terrifying. Just like in the previous film, the xenomorphs are scary predators when they’re biding their time.
The soldiers come across a young girl who is the only survivor using the vents for protection. Ripley calms the girl down who doesn’t speak for a while, before revealing her name is Newt (Carrie Henn, this is the only film she would ever act in). Newt and Ripley develop a very meaningful relationship as Ripley becomes Newt’s mother figure.
The suspense builds as the marines find that the humans have been captured beneath one of the facilities that also happens to be very flammable. This was a very keen lack of foresight. The soldiers find the colonists, but are trapped without the ability to use their weapons, lest they want to blow the entire facility up.
The motion sensors reveal the aliens have the marines surrounded and all hell breaks loose. The films shows it hasn’t aged well in sequences where aliens dominate the screen time. Director James Cameron does his best to shield this by using quick cuts when the aliens are on the screen and showing the hysteria of the marines. Several marines start shooting and the psyche of Lt. Gorman is completely shot. At this moment, Ripley takes over and goes on a journey to cement herself as one of the greatest action heroes of all-time.
Where Alien relied heavily on suspense and the terror of being defenseless, Aliens is a tour de force performance by Sigrouney Weaver as Ripley kicking alien ass. Just like Ripley grew an attachment to Jones the cat in the first film, Ripley has an even stronger affection for Newt. Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) also play well as supportive heroes. The Weyland rep, Burke (Paul Reiser), does an excellent job at being the sleazeball businessman that gets you to cheer for his death.
Cameron plays with the audience as many action films do with numerous close calls. Often in action film, close call moments where the heroes appear to be saved are often disingenuous or laborious, but aliens are very crafty. What makes the aliens such considerable foes are the fact that they are always one step ahead of the humans. The aliens are smarter tactically. What we do learn in Aliens is that the xenomorphs are no match for bullets or flamethrowers. Or Ripley.
The final scenes of Alien revolve around the escape of Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop. As the nuclear reactor is set to explode within the hour, Newt ends up being captured which of course means Ripley has to save her. This creates a fascinating dynamic. Bishop and Hicks are on the ship but Ripley asks them to wait. Hicks is either out of his mind or madly in love, and tells Ripley they’re not going anywhere despite the facility blowing up around them. It’s a sweet gesture, albeit a deadly one.
Ripley finds Newt using a watch tracker she gave her earlier and finds herself in the den of the alien queen. There’s no shortage of Ripley commanding the screen with confidence and hatred that could easily be replaced by frustration and fear when being stalked by a giant alien.
It wouldn’t be a great finale if the alien queen didn’t find her way onto the ship for one final showdown with Ripley.
The showdown featuring Ripley in a giant powerloader versus the alien queen is about as good as it gets. From the moment the door lifts up to reveal a suited up Ripley, we’re treated to 17 seconds of pure film mastery. Ripley walks up in the powerloader as the camera closes in on her face and she says one of the great lines in movie history before bringing the big fight.
All that being said, the ending is questionable. The first time Ripley blew an alien out of the airlock, Ripley had the foresight to put a spacesuit on, I would assume for oxygen purposes. This time Ripley throws caution to the wind, or space, for that matter, and sends the queen out of the airlock nearly taking herself with it. I usually give sci-fi films a benefit of the doubt, but when you stretch it this far, it’s a slight downer.
It’s extremely hard to do something great after it’s been done great once. The aliens concept was done great twice and it’s arguable which rendition was executed better. I side with the first Alien film, but hold nothing against those who laud Aliens more. It’s a matter of taste and preference.
Aliens reminds me very fondly of Jurassic Park and the premise that humans always want power over something they can’t control, and definitely shouldn’t. That premise is likely where this ‘god complex’ with androids and aliens bogged the series down in the latest installment.
What stands out most about films like Aliens and Jurassic Park are the grandeur. Dinosaurs and aliens are larger than life creatures. Only a protagonist or two can seem to survive them.
It’s sad to say that it seems smart to stop here after only the second film of the franchise. But with so much negative language on every Alien film afterward, mine on Covenant included, it is what it is.