Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986) – Sequels suck, or so they say. I personally believe that blanket statements are always wrong. ALWAYS. (See what I did there?) Obviously, everyone can come up with exceptions to the “sequels suck” rule. The Godfather Part II won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is considered by many (yours truly included) to be superior to the first film. The Silence of the Lambs is technically a sequel to Manhunter, despite a lack of continuity of cast or crew (despite Dan Butler and Frankie Faison playing different roles). James Cameron is working on a sequel to Avatar (two actually). Some people roll their eyes at that, but I remain entirely optimistic for one reason: two of the absolute greatest sequels of all time were directed by James Cameron. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of my absolute all-time favorite films. The other is Aliens. A sequel can be one of two things. For smaller, character-based works it simply needs to be a continuation of the story. What happens to the characters next and why is it worth checking back in on them? Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunset or Neil LaBute’s play Reasons to Be Happy are very good examples of that. Your more heavy action-based movies, though, need to escalate things. They need to be bigger. They need to change the game. So Alien is a movie about a single alien that manages to wipe out all but one (two if you count Jones the cat) crew member of a cargo ship. Instead of adding a “2” to the title, Aliens adds an “s.” One alien fucked shit up in the first movie. What can a bunch of them do?

(This review reflects James Cameron’s preferred extended cut of the film.)

After the destruction of the Nostromo, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) floated through space in cryogenic hibernation for a while… and by a while, I mean 57 years. By sheer luck she is found by a deep space salvage operation, and returned to Earth (or rather a space station near Earth). Her story about the alien is greeted with skepticism, especially as LV-426 is now populated with 158 colonists working on terraforming the planet. However, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation loses contact with the colony. Colonial Marines are being sent along with a Weyland-Yutani representative named Carter Burke (Paul Reiser, of all people) to investigate what’s going on in the colony. Burke wants Ripley to some along as an advisor. But they’re prepared. They’ve got a squad of badass Marines: inexperienced Lt. Gorman (William Hope), no-nonsense Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews), taciturn Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn), overly-loquacious and crass Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton), and tough-as-nails Pvts. Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Drake (Mark Rolston). Also others, but… we don’t get to know them that well… When they get to LV-426, they can’t find any of the colonists except a little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn).

Uncommon for science fiction film, action flicks, or sequels, Sigourney Weaver was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for this film. Weaver has a lot of material to work with. In the director’s cut, due to Ripley’s long cryogenic hibernation the ten year old daughter she left behind before the first film has since died in her late 60s. This lends a lot more weight to her relationship to Newt later in the movie. Other relationships in the film are similarly well fleshed-out. There’s the whole pseudo-subplot of Ripley mistrusting the Marines’ android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) because of her bad experiences with Ash in the first film (#NotAllAndroids). The director’s cut runs over two and a half hours, which Fox considered excessive in 1986. Unlike Scott’s 1979 original (where the theatrical cut is superior to Scott’s recut version from 2003), I consider Cameron’s extended cut to be the way to watch the film. The strength of the first film was how well the characters were developed so what happens to them matters. Even characters we don’t get to spend too much time with like (spoiler) Pvts. Frost (Ricco Ross), Dietrich (Cynthia Dale Scott), or Ferro (Colette Hiller) have recognizable personalities.

What any great sequel should do is expand on the world of the original. Aliens does that. Beyond the obvious fact that there are now a whole fuckload of the borderline-unstoppable killing machines from the first movie, we also get face-huggers in motion, and insight into the full reproductive cycle of the xenomorphs. Designed by the late great Stan Winston, the Alien Queen is pretty fucking spectacular. It does what the sequel itself does: it takes what we are familiar with and then builds upon it to create something even more epic. Not to mention the final battle that should go down in the film history books under the heading “awesome way to end a god damn movie.” This was the peak of the Alien franchise. It wasn’t in my personal opinion the last good one (though others certainly think so… perhaps a majority even) but it easily the best. After my review of the first film, a friend on Facebook commented on how due to the first film’s horror tone and this one’s more action-oriented nature it was fruitless to compare the films to one another. I don’t know about that. My basic standard of comparison for all films is simple: which film did I enjoy more? That isn’t always easy to determine, but in this case I got to give it to Aliens. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times since I was a kid and it never fails to entertain.

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