Set 57 years after the events on the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is scooped up from outer space and revived from suspended animation into a future she barely recognises. Surrounded by people who don’t believe her terrifying ordeal, she is convinced to return with a squad of marines to a colony on the planet where it all began…
I may have switched things up for a week but there was no way I wasn’t going to return to this legendary franchise. And how could I not when I have a rare occasion where the sequel is arguably better than the classic original? It’s perhaps strange to think that people had to wait an extended period of 7 years between Alien and Aliens, because when you look at both now, they fit together perfectly and neither feels complete without the other.
It’s true that Aliens is the more action-oriented sequel (and that’s definitely how I compartmentalise it in my head) but upon this rewatch, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a little faster paced than its predecessor but I think that has more to do with both the world and our main protagonist already being mostly pre-established. But even with that, the main new Marine characters Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez (played by Micheal Biehn, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein respectively) are given time to breathe and differentiate themselves. Enough so that every single one has quotable lines that are still remembered to this day.
But here’s the thing, as fun and quotable as those machismo-driven elite soldiers are, it simply isn’t their story. This story belongs to Ripley and 12-year-old Newt (Carrie Henn in her first and only acting role for 34 years).
Newt steals the show despite having limited dialogue in her brilliant role as the traumatised sole survivor of an extraterrestrial massacre. Without her, we would still have an incredibly fun shootout between Marines and Xenomorphs. But with her, our story turns into a woman trying to protect one of the few connections she’s found in a world she feels adrift in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge two key performances here. They are Burke (Paul Reiser) and Bishop (Lance Henriksen) as the supportive executive that she wants to trust and the synthetic lifeform that her past experiences tell her not to. They are symbolic of the struggle that Ripley goes through emotionally. Indeed, for all of the potentially universe-endangering threat that this infestation alludes to, it boils down to wanting to see a woman pushing herself to the limit to save an innocent that she barely knows yet instinctively loves. That is the emotional core of Aliens.
Most of that emotion is drawn out by expertly built tension and that tension is greatly helped by claustrophobic, dimly lit sets. You would think that broadening the scope from a single spaceship to an entire colony would make this difficult but the cinematography is masterful in that it only ever shows the audience just enough to feel unsure. As a viewer, you never feel like you know more than the characters, so as that sense of dread dawns on them, it also dawns on you. The music also deserves praise in this regard, as it switches tone repeatedly. With sweeping, almost melancholic orchestral pieces for the nothingness of space quickly switching to deep, sinister tones or adrenaline-pumping drums as the action on screen dictates. It’s once again a soundtrack to listen to.
Now, for all of the hugely deserved praise I’ve heaped upon this film, I do have the tiniest of nits to pick. I genuinely believe that there is an argument to be made that this film began the degradation of the Xenomorph as a viable threat. Consider this: The first film sees a single creature kill 6 of a 7-person crew, only being defeated by ingenuity. Here, swathes of “one of the deadliest organisms in the universe” are wiped out by (admittedly well-trained) soldiers. Obviously, there are casualties on both sides, so this is far from one-sided, but there’s no denying that this was the first signs of the “1000 ninjas“ trope beginning to creep in. This is in reference to one ninja being portrayed as exceptional in old martial arts movies, while 1000 were merely cannon fodder for a big fight scene. In this particular case, the Queen Xenomorph was likely devised as a partial antidote but be prepared for this to really become a problem as we delve deeper into this franchise.
In conclusion, Aliens is a masterful horror action film with an incredible amount of heart that helps lift it up to true greatness. You may come for the Xenonomorphs but you stay for the enthralling rescue of a traumatised child and the crowning of her saviour as a true action heroine.
Ranking: 5 out of 5 stars
Disney Plus Presentation
Aliens is available in a maximum resolution of 1080p HD. While this may seem unacceptably low, it should be noted that only Alien has received a full 4K remastered release so far, meaning the quality on Disney+ is inline with the latest physical release as of writing.
Also, while an Extras section does exist on the film’s page, it currently only offers the standard promo clip. Lastly, Aliens is renowned for what is widely accepted as a superior “director’s cut” of the film. Unfortunately, Disney+ currently offers the theatrical cut only. This is despite the service having a specific feature available for offering alternate versions of movies.
Presentation Ranking: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Aliens” is available to stream now in many countries, including the UK and Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Netherlands and more
Jon has been a Disney fan all of his life. From wearing out those expensive VHS tapes and visiting Disneyland Paris as a child to becoming a huge fan of the MCU in adulthood, Disney has helped shape some of the happiest, most fun moments he can remember.