Aliens | movie review
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Movie summary: Fifty-seven years after surviving an apocalyptic attack aboard her space vessel by merciless space creatures, Officer Ripley awakens from hyper-sleep and tries to warn anyone who will listen about the predators. (IMDb)
I know that Alien gets a lot of love - and deservedly so - but Aliens is by far and away my favourite entry in the series and is one of the few movies I've seen at least ten times. Yes, the change from horror to action is quite the shift, but it really fricking works here and pretty much all of that has to go down to just how great a director James Cameron is.
This isn't going to be a Cameron love-fest, but he really knows how to make action movies from top to bottom and inside out, with Aliens possibly being his best by just pipping Terminator 2: Judgment Day to top spot. Both movies look fantastic, they sound incredible, the pacing is sublime and the action itself is amazing to watch with how inventive and resourceful it is.
Where I think Aliens tops T2 is with the characters, thanks to the former simply having more numbers to work with and displaying Cameron's skill in fleshing out secondary parts as memorable roles in their own right, such as Bill Paxton's endlessly-quotable Hudson, Jenette Goldstein's badass Vasquez (although I doubt that casting choice would fly these days) and Lance Henriksen's excellent turn as Bishop.
Hell, I could run right through the entire cast and point out a line or scene where they get to shine and stand out as individuals for the audience to connect with. It might not sound like much - and honestly, it isn't - but so few movies these days can match Aliens for having so many memorable characters. MCU movies might come close, but even they can take multiple movies to make audiences connect with the characters in a manner similar to what Cameron can achieve in a single film.
Michael Biehn again helps Cameron by playing another tough, but smart soldier following on from playing Kyle Reese in The Terminator just a couple of years earlier, and is again fantastic; and Carrie Henn as Newt is incredible as a kid whose role involves a lot of screaming which never becomes annoying thanks both to Henn's performance and the situation of a few marines against seemingly-countless xenomorphs justifies the vocal levels she manages.
But, of course, the standout is again Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who manages to - like her character - not just stand her ground, but excel in a fairly large cast of characters. Yes, the movie obviously focuses on her as the only returning cast member from Alien, but it's not like she suffers from being the heart of the movie. If anything, she proves that she bloody well deserves to be the one everyone - characters and audience alike - should be paying attention to.
Having watched Alien and Aliens in such close proximity, I think one of the biggest pieces of praise I can give Cameron is that this movie doesn't look anywhere near as dated as the original, despite coming out only seven years later. It obviously doesn't look modern, but it continues the consistent high level of completely immersive production design from the first movie while taking advantage of what technological advances there were at the time.
It's the pacing of the movie that I think really seals the deal though, because you're never really given long enough with the many dimly-lit locations to really notice any major flaws or issues. That's not a complaint either, the breakneck speed Aliens moves forward with is incredible and is part of the reason why I love this movie so much - it doesn't spoon-feed you exposition either, and you need to keep up or get left behind.
The relentless forward momentum is perhaps the main reason I've seen this movie so many times: once it gets it's claws into you, it doesn't let go until the very end and drags you kicking and screaming along with it the entire time - kind of like one of the xenomorphs, huh? It's over two hours long and there's never been a single occasion of watched it where it has felt anywhere close to that long.
For me, Aliens is one of those rare sequels that improves on the original, which is an insane accomplishment considering how damn good that original is! It continues in the same 'world' while fleshing it out and adding further details to give this movie it's own sense of identity, while changing tones and genre from the first film to create something that feels almost entirely unique - basically, James Cameron is a goddamn genius.
Aliens is one of, if not the single best action movie ever created and a more than worthy sequel to a brilliant movie despite the shift in tone from 'haunted house in space' to what is effectively a war movie. To be fair, making the greatest action movies of all time seems to be a hobby for director James Cameron, who really set a standard very few films have come close to since.