(Warning! Spoilers below)
It’s rare for a sequel to be regarded with the same acclaim as a prequel but Aliens continues the Alien saga with a bang. For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, following the destruction of the Nostromo, Ripley has drifted through space whilst in hypersleep for 57 years. Due to the loss of her ship she is removed from flight status and is forced to scrape along doing menial loading tasks. When contact is lost with a new colony set-up on the planetoid featured in Alien, Ripley is called in to act as an advisor for a squad of Colonial Marines tasked with investigating the loss of contact. As you can imagine, the planetoid is now infested with Aliens (aka Xenomorphs) and what starts as a “bug hunt” ends up with a grim fight for survival.
This film starts by giving a realistic portrayal of the difficulty Ripley has with adjusting to having been asleep for over half a century. She clearly displays signs of PTSD (panic attacks, nightmares etc.) and struggles to get over the loss of her daughter, Amanda (who simply died of old age/natural causes). This serves to fill out Ripley’s character and give more of an insight into her psychology and motivations. When offered the chance to go back to the planet, LV-426, she is understandably terrified but can’t resist the chance to clear her name and one imagines, finish off the alien threat once and for all.
Aboard the US marine ship Sulaco, you get a real feel for the marines tasked with the investigation/rescue and start to identify with them. Although a couple of them are forgettable, most have some character which helps you to invest in what will happen to them. One can’t review this film without mentioning Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson who provides comedic relief as well as losing his shit as most of us would in that situation. His memorable quotes are too numerous to list but they have passed into classic sci-fi lexicon.
As with the first film, the suspense is built steadily as they search and secure the command centre on LV-426 eventually leading to the first alien attack killing off a good number of the marines including Sergeant Apone. The action here is very jumbled and difficult to follow but this probably makes this all the more realistic. The aliens are barely seen and so gore is kept to a minimum although Drake does cop for a faceful of acid during the retreat.
From hereon the film becomes a basic survival movie with the remaining marines, Ripley, the sole known survivor of LV-426, a girl called Newt, the android Bishop and the slimy company rep Burke attempting to escape the planet in order to destroy it from orbit. There is a sub-plot in that the company want a live specimen to be returned to earth (as in the first film) but unlike in the first film, Burke is the one attempting to make enough money to be “set-up for life” by getting Ripley and Newt impregnated deliberately. On the contrary, Bishop (unlike Ash in “Alien”) puts in a fantastic performance, saving the day by crawling through a very narrow pipe to patch in an antenna (isn’t it always the case that someone has to go into harms way to patch something in? See “Last Days on Mars”) and remotely bring down a dropship from the Sulaco. I liked that the balancing view regarding artificial humans/androids was presented here.
During the attempted escape, Newt is lost but thankfully has a tracker on her wrist. This is really where Ripley starts to show her heroism by putting herself in harms way to rescue the girl. In the theatrical cut, the loss of her daughter, Amanda is cut out which is a shame as this is probably a key motivation. In that deleted scene Ripley says she had promised to be back in time for her daughter’s birthday but following the events of “Alien” never saw her again. After promising to take care of Newt I guess Ripley saw this as an opportunity to make amends?
Ripley manages to rescue Newt but it appears that Bishop has left her there to die (so confirming the anti-android plot-line of the first film) but then the dropship appears and one feels a surge of admiration for Bishop who turns out to be the only character who calmly gets on with what’s necessary.
Unfortunately, Bishop meets a grisly end once back on the Sulaco by being torn in two by the Alien Queen who managed to stowaway aboard the dropship. I couldn’t help but feel that this was gratuitous and could not have been done with a human character as red blood would have made the scene far too graphic. It was a nice touch to have the queen’s tail come through his chest though as it sideswipes the viewer into thinking, did Bishop impregnated with an Alien? Can they impregnate artificial humans?
It turns out that Ripley’s time in the wilderness using a power loader turns to her advantage and the classic end fight takes place, pretty much hand-to-hand between an augmented Ripley and the Alien Queen. As in the first film, the vacuum of space proves handy in removing the queen from the Sulaco.
Overall, I probably enjoy this film more than “Alien” as it has a great mix of suspense, action and making you think about what it truly means to be a human.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars