Weaver Battles the Relentless Beast
As a sequel to the already impressive "Alien", James Cameron's "Aliens" is an extraordinary movie which is as good if not better than its predecessor. What makes it extraordinary is the fact that whilst it is an action movie full of special effects as sole survivor Ripley finds herself battling Aliens once again it has a surprising amount of depth. I don't mean that the storyline has any complexity or that the characters are fully developed people but that those we watch at war with the Aliens manage to be interesting and we warm to their different characteristics and relationships. It is this depth alongside all the action, which it has to be said is relentless, that makes "Aliens" even now after a quarter of a century later a spectacular movie.
50 plus years after having survived an Alien attack Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver - Ghostbusters) is discovered floating in space in her escape vessel having gone into cryogenic sleep. Brought back to earth by a salvage crew Ripley is blamed for the destruction of the Nostromo as no one believes her story of the alien. Stripped of her pilots licence and discovering that not only did her daughter die in her absence but the planet LV-426 now has a human colony on it, Ripley is left to deal with her nightmares all by her own. But when communications with LV-426 come to an abrupt halt Ripley is asked to join a mission with a group of marines to head to LV-426 and check out what happened. Once there it soon becomes apparent what has happened and with a young girl survivor called Newt (Carrie Henn) who they find Ripley and the marines must battle the Aliens once again.
The storyline to "Aliens" works well as a continuation to what happened in "Alien" picking things up 50+ years in the future as Ripley having been in cryogenic sleep is recovered by a salvage team who bring her back to earth. It manages to develop plenty of storyline in this opening salvo as not only is Ripley stripped of her pilots licence but we learn that in her absence her daughter has died and the planet LV-426 where the alien was discovered is now inhabited by a small colony of workers. What is good is that all the time it is building up the character of Ripley, the fear she has from the nightmares and her issues with the company which not only stripped her of her licence but hold her accountable for the destruction of the Nostromo and don't believe her story of the Alien attack.
This set up leads nicely and expectedly into Ripley heading back to LV-426 with a varied bunch of marines when communications go down with the inhabitants. Now it has to be said that there is something cliche about the characters we meet at this point from the tough talking female marine, to the silent one and the comedy one and just for good measure there is also an android, Bishop, which leads nicely to linking back to the android in "Alien" which Ripley had problems with. It's easy to see which of the various marines will bite the dust relatively quickly but at the same time whilst the survivors are cliche characters there is something about them which allows us to warm to them. Because of this, because Cameron serves up characters which we get to know in a slim way, "Aliens" becomes more than just an alien bashing action movie. Although it is easy to guess where all of this will lead to and out of the initial survivors who will still remain at the end when Ripley has to face her fears and fight for her life.
What is a sort of clever aspect to all of this is the relationships which form and whilst the semi romantic subplot which comes from Ripley and Hicks is cliche it is the relationship between Newt, a young girl on LV-426 and Ripley which becomes more interesting. Because early on we discover that in her absence Ripley's own daughter died it allows the maternal bond which forms to feel right and makes the big battle at the end have more meaning than if it was just Ripley trying to stick it to the Aliens.
Of course whilst the storyline itself is well developed you can't ignore that "Aliens" is a relentless beast of a movie packed full of action and special effects. After the initial set-up is done with and the marines make it to LV-426 Cameron steps up a gear and we basically get scene after scene of action with no room to catch breath in between. But it's not just action he also manages to deliver edge of your seat tension at the same time which has some great pay offs when something unexpected happens to scare the crap out of you. And all of this the action and those moments of classic horror are all wrapped up in some great special effects be it the spacecraft and vehicles, the guns or Cameron's vision of what the Aliens look like. As such if you only watch "Aliens" to be visually entertained you won't be let down for a minute.
As already mentioned a lot of the characters are almost stereotypes but the performances from the likes of Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn and Jenette Goldstein make them feel interesting and unique and more importantly it is the heart they put into their characters which makes us like them or in some cases dislike them. But like with the first movie it is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley who is central to everything and like in the first movie she is up to the task of leading movie. Those early scenes where we watch Ripley's life basically torn apart by demotion, nightmares and the loss of her daughter are perfectly acted and so are the latter scenes where Ripley basically takes control and fights back delivering what is one of the most powerful female characters to have been seen in the movies. And at the same time you also get that maternal aspect as she bonds with the young girl Newt who is wonderfully acted with just the right amount of cuteness and comedy by Carrie Henn.
What this all boils down to is that "Aliens" still after a quarter of a century is a brilliant movie and a great sequel. It pretty much delivers everything you would expect from relentless action with great special effects and a sense of tension flowing throughout. But at the same time the storyline has a greater depth as it allows us to bond with the characters and whilst there is something a bit stereotypical about the characters and the storyline as it works its way to an expected final battle it works perfectly.