About seven years after Alien, hotshot director James Cameron brought the franchise roaring back to life. Rather than make a generic sequel, Cameron made a bold choice. The first film was a haunted house movie, Cameron opted to make a war movie.
Ripley is awakened 50 years after the first film to find everything she knew is gone. On top of that she is plagued by nightmares of the alien creature. Ripley joins a mission at the request of the corporation to check on a colony that is on the same planet they found the eggs with the alien xenomorph. It is promised to Ripley this is a search and destroy mission.
She is joined by a platoon of Space Marines. They don’t believe her claims of an alien monster, but of course, they soon find out she is neither crazy nor a liar. And then things get bad. And then? They get worse.
Aliens is one of those rare sequels that manages to rival it’s predecessor. Ripley is angry and aimless at the film’s beginning. When she discovers a young girl named Newt hiding in the remains of the colony she starts to see beyond merely destroying the aliens. In the extended cut of the film, it is revealed that Ripley had a daughter on earth who grew up and died in the time Ripley floated through space. This gives an added dimension to Ripley and her dedication to Newt throughout the film.
The marines are a hearty and confident lot. Their banter feels natural as they trade insults and yet fight to protect each other when it all comes crashing down. They are a compelling group. And then there is Bishop. A synthetic or android, Ripley does not trust him, due to the fact that the android on her ship tried to murder her. Bishop represents the other side of that coin. He is kind and polite. He is also willing to risk himself. At one point, after volunteering for a risky mission he states, “Believe me, I’d prefer not to. I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid.” How much of this is programming that compels him, versus a certain human quality is unclear. He notes his programming prevents him from causing harm to a person, but does that programming extend to risking himself to save a person from outside threat?
This is a near perfect action film, with thrills and twists and turns. It manages to expand upon the mythology of the first film’s animal without being a tired retread of information. The performances are compelling and the visual effects have withstood the test of time. On top of that, in spite of being a sequel, you could go into Aliens never having seen Ridley Scott’s film and follow the story with few, if any, questions.