Aliens is a sequel to Alien in only a few ways. First, both films contain the same alien species. Second, the character of Ripley is in both films, after she was the sole human survivor (along with her cat) from the first film. And third, the set-up is similar, where a group of people end up being trapped in an area with the aliens from the title looking to kill them. Other areas like the tone and genre are very different.
Aliens begins right where Alienleft off. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is awakened by a group of salvagers who find her adrift in the middle of nowhere. She’s been asleep for 57 years, they tell her, and she is asked to recount the events that happened from the first film. They don’t believe her, and tell her that she’s wasted millions of company dollars by blowing up her ship. She has her license suspended, and is forced to take mundane, low-risk job — although we never actually get to see her perform it.
Enter Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), who tells her that the planet her former ship landed on is now colonized, and has been for decades. But Earth is no longer getting a signal from the colonized part of that planet. He doesn’t know what it is, whether aliens are doing it or if it’s a simple power outage, but he wants Ripley to help the marine force check it out, acting as a consultant. Ripley is initially reluctant, but caves in after she is offered her old job back.
But of course aliens are to blame for the loss of communication. The team arrives at the planet only to find it abandoned. Then they’re ambushed, and decide to leave, only to have their ship destroyed. They’re trapped and are told by one of the soldiers that they’d have to hold out seventeen days in order for anyone to send help. They’re now trapped, just like the crew in the first film, only this time, there are many aliens instead of one. But this time, the humans have guns, so it’s a fair fight. Right?
At this point, we’ve gotten over and hour into the film and have only had one action scene. It seems like it could carry the same type of tone as the first Alien film. I thought it would, and I was ready for it to degenerate into another slasher film. After all, in a series of slasher films, the enemy never really dies. But that’s not what happens here. Instead, it becomes a nonstop action film that doesn’t let up on the action for the next hour and a bit.
It’s for this reason that Aliens is a lot better than Alien. Instead of becoming a weaker version of a genre that is fairly oversaturated, it becomes a strong version of a genre that is very oversaturated. The difference is that it does the genre well, instead of being just “okay”. It doesn’t let up, and the lives at stake are actually ones we care about, thanks to the first hour of the film that builds them up.
This time, I did care for the people who were set-up to be alien food. They all got enough time for me to get to know them, and they didn’t take anything too seriously. The exception to this rule is Ripley, who continues being the most serious person in this series, wishing to just kill every last alien and then get out of dodge. The side characters are memorable and likable though, so when their lives are at stake, we want to see some sort of miracle to aid them in escaping.
The action scenes, which populate the final hour of the film, are tremendous. Not only are they thrilling and have real importance to the story, but they’re also inventive and simply exciting. Guns, flamethrowers and grenades all get involved at different points, with a nuclear bomb even having the potential to go off. The plan that the group finally decides is that they’ll just nuke the planet, much to the chagrin of the business representative that followed the marines into battle.
That’s something that the film hammers home near the beginning and during a couple of scenes during the middle: Big corporations are evil. They initially don’t believe Ripley’s story about the alien in the first film, and then they don’t want to do anything that might cost them a bunch of money. At one point, the idea to smuggle an alien home after the mission is complete is attempted. (And we all know how great an idea that would be, don’t we?)
I lied earlier, there’s one more thing that the first two Alien films have in common: Something cute that we don’t want to see die. In the first film, it was a cat. In this one, it’s a little girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn) that the adult cast finds in the wreckage on this planet. She initially doesn’t talk, but eventually warms to Ripley enough to call her “mommy”. Ripley sees her own daughter in this child, and promises to protect her no matter what. “Cross her heart and hope to die.” Oh, and the visual effects hold up just fine in Aliens as well, so there’s that too.
Aliens is a superior film when compared to its predecessor, because it does its genre well, instead of just in an average way. It’s essentially an action film that has a lot of build-up to the action, which means you’re in for a heart-pounding thrill ride. It’s a departure from the subdued nature of Alien, but that ended up being a good decision in my eyes. It’s an exciting film that has good effects and unrelenting action, which makes it definitely worthy of a watch.