In spite of a lukewarm reception to the third film, the studio wanted to take another try at the Alien Franchise. Although they managed to pump this one out in just three years, it is a bigger mess than the last one.
This film is set around two hundred years after the last one. It establishes a new wrinkle in the xenomorph mythology. Not only do they borrow from their host, they seem to share DNA. Scientists clone Ripley and the clone has an alien queen in her chest.
A ship of space pirates arrives at the military base that has cloned Ripley with top secret cargo. The scientists are trying to control the aliens as possible weapons. You know how that will work out. The aliens break free and take over the installation, leaving Ripley (along with the Space Pirates) to try and escape.
The film tries to explore the ethics and horrors of genetic experimentation. There is a nicely played moment where they discover a lab full of less successful Ripley clones. One is still alive, causing Ripley true horror. The film has Ripley’s humanity in question (her blood has acidic qualities like the xenomorph) which is punctuated by a late reveal of a synthetic person. The film also tries to add a new breed of alien, but it looks absolutely hideous. Giving the alien beady eyes, white skin and a pot belly is not frightening, just an awful design.
The practical effects are, as they have been throughout the franchise, strong and effective. However, the digital aliens do not stand up well twenty years later.
In spite of a strong cast (not to mention script doctor work by Joss Whedon) the story feels rather pedestrian. Nothing quite gels into a cohesive narrative, and seems like it was built on a series of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” meetings.