There are some arguments about what exactly a sequel should be. Some will tell you that it’s to be the same as the first movie but with improvements made all around (because we know how often that happens) and some will say that the point is to change the formula and create something new out of previous concepts. I tend to not care as long as I get another film that is worth watching and doesn’t just reuse the formula until it’s boring. Franchises have done this time and time again and I’m sick of it. “Aliens” takes what Ridley Scott did with “Alien” and does almost exactly what it says on the tin, makes the enemy plural.
Action is the name of the game this time around. Or at least, that’s where the meat of the film lies. It takes almost exactly one hour for the action to begin and whilst that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you’ll find that the build up to the endless onslaughts of alien creatures isn’t the most engrossing thing you’ve ever witnessed. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the main protagonist again and she has just been awoken from her fifty-seven year hyper sleep that was initiated at the end of the first film. She is still recovering mentally from her encounter with the mysterious creature that stalked her and her crew and left her the only survivor of the USCSS Nostromo. She has regular nightmares of the ordeal and she only gets worse when she realises that a colony has actually settled on LV-426, the planet upon which she encountered the alien. To ease her conscience, she agrees to go down to the planet with a group of (apparently) highly trained marines and sure enough finds the place deserted and in ruin. The only survivor is a little girl called Newt (Carrie Henn) who has survived for weeks in the ventilation systems. The objective soon becomes to nuke the alien hive from orbit and escape for good. It isn’t the most intricate plot ever conceived but it rarely is with action movies, so I don’t expect it.
The fact that Ripley is having to recover from what’s happened to her grounds her in reality somewhat. She is still clearly a very strong heroine but she isn’t so strong that she is just completely out of reach in terms of actually being able to believe in her character. Sigourney Weaver brings her to life like few others could, giving her a hard edged presence. Few of the male marines come across as stronger than her, and when they are they are nowhere near as interesting. Apone (Al Mathews) for example, is simply the physically empowering and loud-mouthed cigar smoker who keeps the marines in check, or he at least tries to and does a dreadful job of it. The whole corps is laid back and disorderly, yet the film will continuously try and tell you that they are all well trained and battle hardened. Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) is the only one that has a personality and actually keeps in line, he has a level head and is usually aware of what he should do in any given situation. The rest of the characters are all caricatures except for Bishop (lance Henriksen) and Burke (Paul Reiser) who is very well portrayed and is a suitably slippery character that always feels slightly off, like Ash from “Alien”, but with more light comedy.
Cameron certainly knows how to film action, and the motion trackers the marines use are an ingenious invention for the film. The systematic bips as they survey the area feel like they could change to the tell tale sound that means that something has moved into the trackers sights. They are often hugely responsible for a scene’s tension and the sound effects are remarkable and unique. All of the sound effects are up to scratch in all honesty, especially the aliens with their banshee like scream that alerts others to the danger. The atmosphere that Ridley Scott masterfully implemented in the original has withered somewhat. Hadley’s Hope simply doesn’t hold up to the gothic maze the Nostromo was, meaning Cameron doesn’t create a setting that is remotely scary so much as it is a means to an end, that end being the death of all the aliens via some “short controlled bursts”. As it makes up the final half of the film I’ll just say that the action is certainly exciting as a release of tension. Aliens get mown down like grass in this film and the only time they really wipe everyone out to display their true power is the first encounter. This encounter serves only really to conveniently deal with the members of the marine corps that they didn’t characterise in anyway. Fair enough, it would have been a waste of time to even try to make them all significant without dragging the film into territory where it begins to drag. Still, the situation is what it is, just with a few more exciting shots of aliens appearing from the darkness as they are curled up onto the organic matter that makes up their hive. Seeing the hive is perhaps the best part about this entry into the series because it gives us insight into how the species works together and it is very interesting to see.
Bishop is an android and Ripley isn’t pleased to learn this due to her last encounter with an android being less than desirable. You can watch as Bishop repeatedly does everything right and comes across as too good to be true. We feel the same distrust as Ripley does and that makes Bishop into one of the most intriguing parts of “Aliens”. What are his motives? Can he really not hurt a human? When will he decide it’s his time to strike? He’s very compelling as far as synthetic humans go. The Queen of the alien hive makes up a lot of the truly brilliant action of the film. She is a huge hulking behemoth and a stand-out scene shows Ripley holding Newt in the middle of a nest of eggs with the Queen watching over them. The parallels between Ripley and the Queen are clear here as they both wait for each other to make the next move as both of their maternal instincts stand off against each others. It’s times like this that you see Cameron’s prowess as a film maker and his ability to give the action genre more meaning than one might initially hold it to, but he doesn’t quite manage it this time around.
“Aliens” is a film that I once loved but can now see isn’t the masterpiece I saw the first few times I viewed it. “Alien” remains the classic that will continue to stand the test of time as one of the finest works of science fiction horror ever displayed, and “Aliens” will be that film you watch when you need to see some heads explode, some very juicy heads.