There are very few sequels in cinema that have managed to surpass the originals in the reach of their appeal and overcome the expectations of the loyal, faithful fans of the original films. James Cameron’s Aliens, somehow, exactly manages to do that by taking the original story of Ridley Scott’s Alien and expanding upon it in ways most sequels are afraid to. Aliens is, without a doubt, one of the best sequels ever made and just like Alien, is one of the best offerings of its or any other genre. It is set in the same universe of Alien but is way more bigger & action-packed than the original and succeeds not only as a great sci-fi horror but also re-defines the action genre.
Aliens is set 57 years after the events of the first film. It begins with Ripley being rescued & revived from hypersleep after drifting in space for more than 50 years. After hearing her account of what happened to her former crew on Nostromo, the panel board turns down her story, revokes her space-flight license & makes her aware of the colonisation of the planet LV-426, where the alien spaceship was found in the first film. Things set in motion when the contact with the colony on planet LV-426 is lost and Ripley is requested to join a group of space marines to investigate which she, after initially refusing, finally accepts in order to face & overcome her fears. While Alien gave equal importance to each of its characters, Aliens places more emphasis on Ripley and is basically her journey from undergoing severe traumatic nightmares caused due to the events of the first film to facing her fears head on in this sequel.
James Cameron is an extremely talented writer-director not because he knows what great action is all about but because he’s always able to back it up with a highly compelling story which is further elevated by jaw-dropping visuals. Coming from the success of The Terminator, Cameron could have easily made a loose sequel of Alien by repeating the concept of the first film but chose to do it differently by expanding the universe of the previous film and giving an insight into the evolution of the creatures as well as Ripley. While Alien was a slow building masterpiece of atmospheric tension, Aliens travels the same road to some extent but then takes a slightly different turn by replacing the survival horror of its predecessor with a highly intense, bombastic & violent war between two species, unlike anything that existed before it. There is less suspense in this film than Alien, but Cameron makes up for it by turning Aliens into an action-thriller filled with intense moments of relentless terror, highly potent combat sequences and finally culminates the story with a bone-chilling climax.
The part of Ellen Ripley is brilliantly written by Cameron. He penned down Sigourney Weaver’s character with extreme care & provided much more depth to Ripley. Also, her relationship with Newt in this film gave Weaver new emotional dimensions to explore. With such a layered canvas crafted by Cameron to build upon, Weaver was able to capitalize and ended up giving a truly remarkable performance, thus becoming the first real female action figure in cinema. Supporting her are other excellent performances too, especially by Carrie Henn as Newt, a traumatized young girl who is the only former survivor on the colonized planet and with whom Ripley forms a motherly bond. Lance Henriksen provides his very own dimensions to the character of Bishop, the android. The space marines have their badass attitude in tact and each one of them is given a distinct trait. And the team of Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton & others did a commendable job in portraying them on-screen. Solid performances all around.
As for this film’s technical achievements, the art direction & set designs may not have surpassed the artistic levels set in the previous film but it certainly comes close. However, the one category where this film sets a new benchmark of its time is in its state-of-the-art visual & sound effects. Visual effects are absolutely groundbreaking and that’s one part which has since become a trademark in James Cameron’s films. Sound always plays a big role in combat & horror films and is impressive here as well, be it the sound of guns blazing, aliens shrieking or explosions. Cinematography successfully creates a more evolved atmosphere of what existed in the original film. Editing is cleverly done & it successfully manages to keep the viewers gripped to their seats for 2.5 hours which goes pretty unnoticed. And finally, the score perfectly balances the tone of the film and stays in sync with the film’s content. It’s loud, terrifying, suspenseful & also touching wherever & whenever it’s supposed to be. Splendid work by composer James Horner.
Even though many fans will be divided over which is a better film between Ridley Scott’s Alien & James Cameron’s Aliens, there is no denying that both films are masterpieces & immortal for their contribution to horror, action & science-fiction genres. And looking back, Aliens is indeed a perfect follow-up to Alien, not just because it explores the elements of the original beautifully, but also because it places greater emphasis on staying true to the original by following it up with an equally mesmerizing story rather than something made just for financial gains, like most sequels of today. Highly entertaining, immensely satisfying & a spectacular roller-coaster ride of non-stop action, Aliens refuses to age even after three decades and continues to rank amongst the most intense & fulfilling pieces of action films, ever. And a final note to whoever is reading this: Although Aliens is strong enough to be a standalone film, it still would be a wiser move to visit the original by Ridley Scott before moving on to this one. And just like Alien, James Cameron’s Aliens comes strongly recommended.