Summer Movie Showdown: "Aliens" Reviews

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The planet from Alien has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, the rescue team has impressive firepower, but will it be enough?
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Summer Movie Showdown: "Aliens" Reviews

-- Rating: R (monster violence, language)
Length: 137 minutes
Release Date: July 18, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Genre: Action/Thriller/Sci-Fi

At the end of the landmark 1979 sci-fi thriller "Alien," Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was the sole survivor of the ill-fated ship "Nostromo" after a toothy alien monster got on board and killed the rest of the crew. She managed to get rid of the alien and put herself into a deep sleep known as stasis until she could get home to Earth. The fantastic sequel "Aliens" is set fifty-seven years later when a salvage ship comes upon the "Nostromo" and wakes Ripley out of her stasis.

After relaying the traumatic events of the first film, Ripley is stripped of her license and left to face life without anyone she once knew, who all died in the half century since she went missing. Then earth loses contact with a colony that has inexplicably been built on the alien planet, leading Burke (Paul Reiser) to ask her to go on a mission to the planet, since she is familiar with it. She agrees and boards a ship with a crew that includes brave soldier Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) and the benevolent android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) among others. Once they land on the planet, it doesn't take long to realize that Ripley was telling the truth about the aliens. The lone survivor of the carnage is Newt (Carrie Henn), a cute young girl who is all alone after the aliens destroyed the colony and her entire family. Ripley becomes instantly attached to the girl, even risking her life to go back and rescue her at one point instead of getting to safety.

Meanwhile, the slimy Burke (Paul Reiser) sees what the aliens can do and is convinced that they can be weaponized for use on earth at considerable profit, which is why the colony was set up in the first place. This news disgusts the remaining crew, who have no choice but to let him be while they barricade themselves inside what is left of the colony to try and survive long enough for a rescue ship to come and get them. It sets up a good hour or so of nonstop action sequences that are at once exciting, exhilarating, and even exhausting in the best of ways. It's a thrill ride that barely lets viewers catch their breath before the next attack.

So many action films that came before "Aliens" had female characters that were secondary and barely saw any action, if they saw any at all. Relegated to the role of wife or girlfriend, women were mostly on the fringes of action films. In the original "Alien," Ripley was a huge part of the action, but she hadn't yet become the awesome butt kicker that she officially became in "Aliens." Female actors like Angelina Jolie, who became an action star in her own right with the "Tomb Raider" series, owe a huge debut to Weaver, who paved the way for others like her to get parts that were not just a part of the action; they were the lead roles. Director James Cameron must have been paying attention, because he beefed up his then-wife Linda Hamilton to become an action star in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" five years later.

Even though Ripley's primary objective in the film is to survive and help her makeshift family survive, that doesn't mean that Weaver doesn't turn in a layered performance. The script by director Cameron is a homerun because it is almost relentless action for the last hour or so while still giving enough character development to make viewers want to root for most of the cast. Action thrillers like this often get away with paper-thin characters because the action is the focus, but Cameron has written a great story with characters that are easy to get attached to. Even those who didn't see the original "Alien" will love Ripley because of Cameron's characterization and Weaver's phenomenal portrayal, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination.

When "Aliens" came out in 1986, Cameron was not the household name that he is today. Two years before, he made a sleeper hit called "The Terminator" and got just enough respect from the studios to be allowed to pitch his passion project, which was the long-planned sequel to "Alien." The film had languished in turnaround for years, but Cameron's visionary take on the sequel was convincing enough to get the film made. It helped take his fledgling career to the next level, and helped revitalized the sci-fi genre, which had been waning for a while. It is a bold film that helped define the man who made it and still stands today as one of the best sci-fi pictures ever made.

Rating: 4 out of 5