Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Monster Violence, and for Language
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein & Al Matthews
With ALIEN being a giant success, a sequel was inevitable. Where to take the property though and who could possibly pick up the reigns after Ridley Scott left his distinct mark on the series? While Scott’s ALIEN focused on scares, James Cameron’s ALIENS was all about action. As you might have guessed from its title, there are many Xenomorphs in this film. ALIENS is a sequel done right in that it builds off the original film to take the series in bold new directions, all while constantly upping its game. The end result is not only one of the best sequels in film history, but also one of the best sci-fi action movies to ever grace the silver screen.
As the sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been in hypersleep for 57 long years. Rescued from the cold recesses of space by the same company that screwed her over in the first place, Ripley finds that (unsurprisingly) no one believes her tales of an acid-bleeding, long-headed, two-mouthed, bug-like monster. In fact, the planet where the Nostromo originally landed is now a site for colonization. When the colony goes dead quiet, Ripley is called in as a consultant for a bunch of space marines assigned to investigate the oddly silent location. When they arrive, Ripley and the space marines discover hundreds of vicious Xenomorphs. In a race against a ticking clock, they must use their heads and work together to escape the planet.
In my ALIEN review, I complained about how stupid most of that film’s characters were and how they essentially boiled down to slasher victims in space. ALIENS remedies this issue by having a colorful group of characters who make smart choices and come off as instantly likable. While I didn’t care about most of the crew members dying in the first film, the deaths in this sequel make the viewer sad to see another beloved space marine bite the dust. Yes, Ripley is a bad-ass and really gets a lot of room to shine in this second installment. This is especially true during the final 30 minutes that have her saving the day on a deadly solo mission. However, the supporting cast is stellar this time around.
The biggest stand-out of the space marines is Lance Henriksen as android Bishop. While Ian Holm was just plain creepy as the first film’s android, Henriksen manages to be both creepy and charming at the same time. First time viewers, won’t know where his allegiances fully lie and Cameron wisely inserts scenes that could be taken two completely different ways. As other notable space marines, Michael Biehn is charismatic as Hicks (also serving as a possible love-interest for Ripley), Bill Paxton is hilarious as grunt Hudson (uttering one of the most iconic lines in an action movie ever), and Jenette Goldstein is a total bad-ass as Vasquez.
Paul Reiser plays corporate scumbag Carter Burke and owns his transformation from annoying sleazeball (at first) to downright despicable asshole (by his final scene). ALIENS also seemingly does the impossible by bringing in a little kid and not making them annoying in every single second that they’re on the screen. This child-in-danger comes in Carrie Henn as Newt. Henn had no previous acting experience before this film, which makes her performance that much more impressive. She nails the role of this young survivor and has become a fan favorite over the decades, all while providing a reason for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to develop instant motherly protection.
James Cameron’s ALIENS is much more of an action movie than a scarefest, but Cameron keeps everything in tact that made the first movie great. This include the freaky-looking planet design, the insect-like monsters, and the sense of constant danger around every corner. Even though there are more characters this time around and they’re heavily armed, that just means there’s more people stuck in the same heart-pounding situation and their ammo will eventually run out. An adrenaline-pumping chase scene through a series of ventilation shafts is every bit as claustrophobic as the best jump scare from the first film, but this time there are aliens coming from all directions and bullets flying everywhere.
Cameron’s sequel further builds on the creatures’ biology, nesting habits, and introduces a Queen Alien to the series (all those eggs have to be coming from somewhere). This towering creature is one of the most intimidating monsters to ever hit the big screen. Think a regular Xenomorph times a hundred and much, much bigger. This makes for one of the greatest human vs. alien battles in the finale too. This isn’t to negate the film’s quieter, more effective moments, because there are a few twists that naturally built and progressively up the stakes in a believable way.
Throughout his career, James Cameron has directed two of the best sequels of all-time: TERMINATOR 2 and this film. ALIENS is not only a perfect example of how to make a stellar second installment that outdoes the original, but it’s also one of the best science-fiction action hybrids to ever grace the silver screen. Adrenaline-pumping action, colorful characters (who the viewer is sad to see die), unexpected plot turns, high stakes that progressively become higher, and an already great mythos evolving are just some of the reasons why this sequel is so phenomenal! ALIENS is entertainment at its biggest and best!