“They mostly come at night… mostly”
There is some debate around what should be considered the best film in the Alien franchise but the general consensus is that James Cameron’s sequel is the pinnacle of the genre. After watching it again for the first time in years, I’m not so sure…
Aliens is remembered as being the high octane brother of the more measured and tense original. In reality however, not much happens in the first hour of Aliens. The difference is that Ridley Scott is so effective at creating a tense atmosphere while James Cameron fares better in the action sequences. Also, despite coming out 7 years later, Aliens feels more dated now than the original. Not because of the special effects, which even now still look amazing, but because of the characters. Aside from the ever reliable Ripley and the enigmatic Bishop, the rest of the cast are made up of interchangeable marine types who could have been transported from any army film of the era. Of the military element, only Bill Paxton’s hysterical turn as Hudson is interesting enough to do their screen time justice.
Aside from that minor gripe however, there is no doubting Cameron’s ability to produce a spectacle. The most memorable shots of the franchise come from Aliens, whether it be the victims stuck in the walls or the terrifying, slow reveal of the Queen, and the breathless last hour is as gripping as it is entertaining.
Ripley continues to develop as a character and her maternal relationship with Newt allows for a tender side not often present in science fiction. It is also interesting that Ripley has now featured in two films in which there is no real suggestion of a romantic interest, thus ensuring the character is never defined by a man or her relationship with a man. This is one of the reasons that Ripley remains such a powerful, female role model within popular culture.
Aliens is a very different film to the one that preceded it but somehow they fit together perfectly. Neither of them have been surpassed in the genre of science fiction.