“This time there’s more.”
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn
Synopsis: The planet from Alien (1979) has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, the rescue team has impressive firepower, but will it be enough?
Fifty-seven years after her bruising ordeal with the stowaway life form in Ridley Scott’s Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) drifts through space, cocooned in a cryogenic womb as she sleeps, awaiting her rebirth into a world that has moved on without her. Discovered, and returned to a corporate Earth pre-occupied with mining other planets, Ripley is perplexed to learn that the planetoid on which her crew first came into contact with the alien life-form has been colonized without incident. Some time later, however, contact with the colony is lost, and Ripley accompanies a military unit sent to establish why.
Seven years after the original movie, James Cameron took over the helm of the Alien franchise and transformed it into an action thriller in space while managing to retain focus on the themes of motherhood and feminism. As with the first movie, most of the men in Aliens are ineffective: the macho Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) is the toughest of the bunch of marines whose presumptuous swagger vanishes after their first encounter with the aliens that have done a little colonising of their own on the mining colony. Only Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) manages to hold it together, although Bill Paxton’s Hudson, who frequently travels to the verge of hysteria before somehow managing to get his act together long enough to come good, is by far the more interesting character. There’s also another android (Lance Henrickson) amongst the crew, who weathers Ripley’s initial hostility to prove a worthy ally. So while Aliens is one of those rare examples of a sequel which is at least as good as its predecessor, it also follows the loose rule of reversing key factors from the original.
Ripley has toughened up after her first encounter. She no longer rides an emotional rollercoaster, pitching between aggression and tears as she did in the first movie. She’s more like John McClane, despite pre-dating his debut by two years. Like the Queen Alien with whom she must ultimately do battle, Ripley is a mother – of an eleven-year-old girl who grew old and died while her mother slept, and of Newt (Carrie Henn), a waif whose parents and brother were amongst the alien’s first victims.
While Aliens might be loaded with subtext, it’s one of the few movies I watch in which the nature of the story practically encourages me to disregard its deeper themes and simply let the mindless action take control, and it‘s difficult to know whether that‘s a good thing or not. Obviously, it’s good that director James Cameron can give some measure of depth to what is essentially a shoot-em-up in space, but perhaps it’s because of this that this particular subtext feels a little tacked on, a rehash of areas already explored in the first movie, that the exceptional quality of action is a necessity rather than a bonus. Cameron’s dig at the arrogance of military might, realised in the overbearing attitudes and posturing of the marines, is a whole lot more fun – and perhaps a lot more on the ball.
(Reviewed 13th September 2012)