Aliens is a very different beast to Alien. Whereas Alien focused on slow tension, building to almost unbearable levels, Aliens is far more action orientated; aiming to thrill the audience rather than freak them the fuck out.
James Cameron brings his knack for blockbuster storytelling (which continued up until Terminator 2) to Ridley Scott’s framework, and rather than exploring the mythology (Space Jockeys etc.) he pushes the same story forward, and keeps the focus firmly held on our favourite parasitic extra-terrestrials.
Ripley is safe and she is woken from space-sleep 57 years after the events of Alien. She hopes for a peaceful life, but that is all disrupted when she is asked to go and explore some curious goings-on on LV-426, the planet featured in Alien, which is in the process of being colonised. Then, as expected, the shit very much hits the fan.
A mixture of hard boiled heroine, heart-pounding action, thrilling set pieces, a real heart (Bishop is one of the most likeable sci-fi characters ever), and the greatest monsters in cinema-history; Aliens is truly remarkable, and even the special edition (which is a whopping 154 minutes long) never gets dull. Yes, most of the action can be regarded as point-and-shoot, but when it is handled this well and executed with such panache, how can you complain? Also, the dialogue is not exactly Casablanca, but it’s chock-a-block full of quotable marine lingo (“Game over, man!”).
All this action takes place within the confines of a selection of important maternal issues. Not only with the Alien Queen (making her big-screen debut in an extraordinary fashion), but with the Newt-Ripley relationship and the news about her daughter; it’s powerful stuff. Scott started it in Alien, but Cameron took it to a whole new level with this sequel, and together they created an action lead to rival any Schwarzenegger or Stallone. This was also Hollywood’s introduction to the bad-ass heroine, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has not yet been matched.
The action is relentless, ending with a pretty much silent last half hour showing cinema in its true form; a visual medium. Too often filmmakers rely on people talking at you to get their message across, when instead they could just let the image do the talking; action, when used properly, can be the best form of exposition. This is cinema back to its silent roots; where the filmmaker uses action to tell the story rather than flashy dialogue. The score acts as another link with the silent-era; James Horner managed to perfectly capture the feel of the piece, it never becomes intrusive but is always there in the background, making the set pieces more dramatic and the moments of tension more nail-biting.
Though it may seem like a dumb 80s action movie, this is cinema at it most raw and thrilling. A masterpiece.