Gung-ho sequel time. It only gets worse from here on out. Proper ray of sunshine, ain’t I? Also, before I continue, I just wanted to say that I’m reviewing the theatrical versions of these films. The director’s cut of Aliens is actually the better version in my book, but I figured I’d stick with what was originally shown in cinemas.
After the financial and critical success of the first film and the easily sequelable (not a word, should be) ending, another Alien
film was bound to be made. Imaginatively titled Aliens
and helmed by James “supremely overrated” Cameron, it took all the subtlety and atmosphere of the first one and blew it out a goddamn airlock. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, I welcome it. An attempt to just copy/paste the first one would have really been a mistake and it’s good to have Aliens
on hand to show people just how to evolve your franchise rather than having studios just churning out the same crap again and again.
“Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked pal!”
We catch up with lone survivor (excluding the cat, pedants) of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) who has been in hypersleep for 57 years. She is picked up by “the company” and made to tell her story of horror and survival. Initially disbelieved, Ripley is made to look like a fool, but is soon reluctantly recruited into the Colonial Marines to return to the planet LV-426, the planet from the first film, to investigate the lack of communication from the colonists there. Plot-wise, the film’s solid. I like the fact that we learn more about Ripley in this one. She goes from (admittedly tougher than the usual) horror scream queen in the first, to arse-kicking warrior in this installment. Sigourney Weaver is so damn good as Ripley. You can see why she became such a big star after these performances. Of the badass marines, I like most of them, although I personally find Hicks (Michael Biehn) to be a nice, thick slice of “Who gives a fuck?”. Special mentions go to the cigar chomping Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), the tough as diamond nails Pvt.Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and the whiny, but entertaining Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton), who gets to say most of my favourite lines from the film. Lance Henriksen is totally likeable as Bishop and I think Paul Reiser turns in a good performance as the appropriately named Burke- although embarrassingly, it seems like he and Weaver had been going to the same barber
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention Newt (Carrie Henn) in the above paragraph. This is because I fucking hate Newt. I understand the character’s role in the whole thing (Ripley’s daughter is dead and the whole issue of motherhood is prevalent throughout) but Jesus Christ, do I wish Newt a) was played by a better child actor and b) had less shit lines to gurgle from her muddy, Cabbage Patch Kid-esque face. I don’t enjoy picking on a child’s performance- it doesn’t exactly make me feel like a big man, but this is a genuine gripe for me. Most of it is due to the writing. The little exchange at the end between the two really makes me wonder how the lines got into the final script:
“NEWT: Can we sleep all the way home?
RIPLEY: All the way home.
NEWT: Can I dream?
RIPLEY: Yes, honey. I think we both can.”
Not only do I find that little bit rage and vomit inducing, but my question is this: what kid speaks like that? I understand that Newt is a pretty smart kid, having survived on her wits alone. However, even taking that into account, there’s something so off-puttingly unnatural about Newt’s lines. “Can I dream?” sounds like a line from a cheesy movie about a self-aware robot or some such toss.
Anyway- that’s my only real problem with Aliens. The stakes are significantly upped and the film is all the better for it. The tagline “This time it’s war” isn’t lying. Cameron brings the noise and we have all-out battles pitting a steadily declining group of marines against an army of the acid-blooded motherfuckers. I love the way the aliens blend into the environment. If one had their “subtext analysis” hat on (and I did, my “sit back and just enjoy the sodding thing” hat was in the wash) some parallels with the Vietnam war could be drawn. Actually, you don’t even need a special hat- Cameron isn’t the master of subtlety. If something needs to be stated, you may as well overstate it if you’re James Cameron.
There are fantastic sequences throughout. I love the facehugger scene where Ripley and (sigh) Newt are trapped in a room with two of the scurrying bastards. I love Burke’s innocent face after he’s just turned off the monitor showing a clearly panicked and wildly gesticulating Ripley. Ooh- that curly-haired shit! (by that I mean Burke, by the way). There’s also the iconic Powerloader scene, which is just as air-punchingly cathartic as it was when I first saw it. Like the first one, there are little moments to appreciate too. My favourite is the easily missable bit where Apone places his beloved cigar in his mouth milliseconds after waking from hypersleep- it’s not even a “bit” as such, but it’s a little touch that always makes me smile.
“Get away from her, you bitch!”
So yeah, despite being a complete departure from the things I liked about Alien, Aliens manages to find a level of greatness all of its own. It gets a bit relentless at times, but there’s just too much to like. I fucking hate Newt, but other than that, no qualms here.