Sequels should always strive to be better than the original while paying homage to the film that came before it. James Cameron does a bang up job with a film that, in another reality, would have failed big time. Cameron takes what was a slow burn and gradually unraveling horror science fiction film about a woman battling a phallic alien and transforms it in to a brutally and entertaining action horror film. While some of the more ardent fans of “Alien” might have been thrown off by the change in tone, James Cameron embraces the action genre for a brand new generation, offering an extension of Ridley Scott’s film that compliments what came before.
Cameron detracts only slightly from Scott’s original masterpiece, extending every bit of plot point and creature aspect that Scott only hinted at in “Alien.” While the original alien was a single hunter that thrived on breeding and bringing down its hunters, “Aliens” is a whole new ballgame where there are much more grizzled heroes and many more aliens afoot. This is the Regan era, and we meet a Regan era group of hardboiled and diverse soldiers, all of whom are serving alongside one another and compel from the moment we meet them. Though the character count is so much more numerous, Cameron manages to build a long list truly memorable and iconic action heroes, all of whom never really go down without a fight. Set fifty seven years after the original film, Ripley is now drifting through space, one of the only survivors of the original crew.
When she’s discovered, she’s taken aboard a ship filled with a group of ragtag colonial marines, all of whom are trying to get in touch with a colony named Hadley’s Hope. What was once the breeding ground for the alien eggs decades before is now a place for civilization. Anxious to figure out what happened on the colony, Ripley is convinced to go along with the Marines to investigate. Much to their horror, they learn the colony was destroyed by alien forces, and the remaining human survivors have been used as incubators for the face huggers that give birth to the alien species. Now paired with a lone survivor, a young girl named Newt, Ripley and the Marines are sabotaged and left stranded on the base and have to fight their way out.
Much to Ripley’s surprise, though, the aliens have multiplied in to a hive, all very powerful, very clever, and devoted to hunting down their human victims. Cameron’s “Aliens” is much more high energy but just as sophisticated as the original relying on a very complex premise revolving around Ripley’s knowledge of the alien species known as Xenomorphs and how it factors in to an underlying plot by the corporation Weyland Yutani and their efforts to exploit the horrific situation for the sake of profit. Cameron elicits myriad amazing performances, casting brilliant actors like Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein as one of the few iconic female action heroines ever conceived.
With “Alien,” Scott focused on the hyper sexual aspect of Ripley battling against the more phallic monster as a sort of battle of the sexes. In “Aliens,” Cameron rethinks the idea of Ripley, and the aliens forming a very interesting overtone of motherhood, and paternal bonding that’s carried all the way through to the teeth clenching finale. It’s not difficult to comprehend why Cameron’s “Aliens” is such a celebrated action horror film, is combines both genres to pitch perfect precision, delivering what is easily one of the best sequels ever made.