Making a film in the hope of it being a critical and commercial success is one thing. Following that up with a sequel that has to live up to the reputation of the original is a whole another ballpark. How do you continue what has been established in this particular universe? What do you add to it and why? Can you recapture the tone of the first film or go for something else entirely? Questions upon questions. It’s certainly a daunting task.
So let me explain why Aliens is one of the best sequels of all time and how it stands on equal footing with its predecessor.
As much as the success of Alien came to Ridley Scott’s phenomenal direction, James Cameron deserves so much praise for bringing all of the components together to make for one extremely satisfying package. Coming off of The Terminator released in cinemas two years ago, all of his directional sensibilities are here in full force. I loved how he uses the camera to get the viewer up close in the action to make them feel as if they are with the characters onscreen. It does wonders for adding suspense and makes the film feel real. His use of point of view shots stand out in particular for all the reasons I have said, especially in a scene that involves a pair of facehuggers. They do so much to add intensity. I love them so much.
What I even find more remarkable about his direction is that while Aliens is at its core an action movie, it still feels like something that would take place in the same universe as Alien. We still have that white knuckle suspense, environments that are dirty and feel as if they were lived in, pitch-prefect sound design and an overwhelming sense of paranoia that is a result of the titular threat. It’s hard to describe, but what I can say is that Cameron didn’t just made a great film, but also a great Alien movie at that. Which is ironic if you read up a little of what was ongoing behind the scenes According to Cameron, the crew saw him as an inferior substitute for Ridley Scott and were skeptical of his direction throughout his production. I think with this film, he put those fears to rest.
Aside from the amazing direction, I loved the additions Aliens made to its universe. The concept of terraforming uninhabitable planets to make them suitable for humanity, the colonial marines and all of their technology, Learning more about the Xenomorphs and how they function as a species. Thankfully, it doesn’t make them any less terrifying. Easily capable of decimating a team of well-trained, armed soldiers within minutes. The Alien Queen is a delightfully wonderful expansion with some nice buildup and an incredible design.
The final piece that connects both Alien and Aliens together is Sigourney Weaver fantastic performance as Ellen Ripley. Her performance in the first film was great, but she really got the chance to shine in the sequel. Tormented by the events that she barely escape from alive, I was on board with her resolve to destroy the monsters that have been the root cause of her nightmares. I had so much fun watching her stand her ground, and taking charge of an ever worsening situation. I also loved the scenes of Ripley acting as a mother figure to Newt, a child who is the sole survivor of the colony that most of the film is centered on. They were very heartwarming, and serve to naturally develop both of these characters.
While a part of me will always been attached to the seven man crew in the first film, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t love the supporting cast in Aliens. The colonial marines make for wonderful entertainment. The camaraderie between them is absolutely believable, largely in part due to the energetic performances by the actors. Wisely, the film plays up how much they’re a complete 180 from the original, as evidence by Ripley’s reactions to interacting with them for the first time. In particular, Bill Paxton Pvt. Hudson is a delight. He is so enthusiastic and delivers his lines with so much passion. I could not get enough of his character.
If you read my review of Alien, then you would see me state that I didn’t give that film its proper credit when came to the actual film-making and direction. The same holds true here. Aliens is up there as one of the best sequels ever made. It has it own distinctive tone while still serving as a companion piece through its mythology and Cameron fantastic direction. The characters are very fun to watch, with one of Sigourney Weaver best performances. It really does stand on equal footing with the original. The worst thing about the movie was that it ended.
I’m sure the following sequels would in no way be a controversial followup to Aliens. No way. Don’t see how that can happen at all…