Alien Flashback Review: Aliens
Fuckin’A. James Cameron’s ALIENS is my pick for the greatest sequel of all time. I know, I know- what about EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, TWO TOWERS, DARK KNIGHT, etc. Well, to me, they ain’t ALIENS, but- they’re also not straight sequels, as they are part of a trilogy. ALIEN was never envisioned as a saga, and let’s not forget that back in the late-seventies/early eighties, Hollywood was not quite as sequel-crazy as it is today, so if James Cameron hadn’t come along with a kick-ass idea for ALIENS, they might have left the franchise alone.
Luckily, Cameron, riding high of the success of THE TERMINATOR, came up with a fantastic idea for a follow-up, which was to take the energy he put into TERMINATOR, and mix it with ALIEN, coming up with an action extravaganza follow-up that, while wildly different from the original, is considered by many (myself included) to be better than the first film.
What makes it so great? How about EVERYTHING ! Smartly, Cameron brought Sigourney Weaver back as Ripley, picking up the action 57 years after the first movie. Ripley’s been in hyper-sleep, and wakes up in a world that’s completely foreign to her. Initially a brilliant employee of Weyland-Yutani, now she’s hopelessly out of date- not to mention that the company doesn’t believe her story of an alien wreaking havoc on her ship. The planet they landed on the the first film, LV-426 has since been colonized- but guess what? The company has just lost contact with the colonists, and now Ripley doesn’t seem so crazy after-all.
Weaver plays her as a changed woman, and a subplot deleted in the theatrical version, but present on the superior director’s cut, reveals that Ripley had a daughter who died of old-age while she was adrift in space. This brings a hint of melancholy to the character, and makes her maternal relationship with Newt even stronger. Her performance is good strong that she was actually nominated for an Oscar in ’86.
Over the course of the film, Weaver’s Ripley evolves into a reluctant hero- but unlike the first film where’s she’s only trying to survive, here- she’s trying to save people, as her motherly love for Newt drives her along- to the extent that in the finale, once all the bad-ass colonial marines have been killed, Ripley has to face the Alien Queen alone.
To me, Weaver’s Ripley is one of the all-time best action heroes- ranking alongside James Bond, John McClane, and Indiana Jones. Unlike many female driven Hollywood action flicks, Ripley’s femininity isn’t used in a fetishistic way (like in say, the TOMB RAIDER or UNDERWORLD films), or downplayed. Instead, her heroism comes from that all-powerful maternal instinct. She’s incredible, and credit James Cameron, who has a knack for writing strong female characters, for giving us a heroine for the ages. And the final battle between Ripley and the queen. Chills. "Get away from her you BITCH!"
MUSIC: James Horner supplies one of my all-time favorite musical scores, kicking off a long collaboration with Cameron (leading to TITANIC, & AVATAR). His score holds up so well, cues from it are still being used in trailers twenty-six years later.
BEST DEATH: Nothing tops Jeanette Goldstein’s Vasquez- taking herself out in a blaze of glory, when pinned down by aliens- alongside Lt. Gorman. “You always were an asshole Gorman” she says, before the two sacrifice themselves, and take a bunch of pesky xenomorphs with them.
MOST BADASS CHARACTER OTHER THAN RIPLEY: This is a close one- as I initially assumed Vasquez had this pinned down, before watching it again and giving the edge to Michael Biehn’s awesome Hicks- who’s so cool, he even makes the name Dwayne seem badass. My favorite line of his is after all the ammo is confiscated, he pulls out his trusty shotgun and says, “I like to keep this around for close encounters.”
CHARACTER THAT LOSES THEIR SHIT: While Lt. Gorman loses it early, he snaps back in time to go out heroically with Vasquez, after handing over command to the infinitely more capable Hicks. But Bill Paxton’s Hudson? “Game over man, GAME OVER!!!”
RECEPTION: ALIENS was actually less successful than ALIEN, grossing $77 million, but it was still a hit, and in the years since has turned into a cash cow for Fox. The reviews were also largely positive, even though some criticized the change of tone, calling it “Rambo in space.” Whatever.