Movie Mondays 5: Aliens (1986)

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Following the success of the first film in this franchise, a sequel to Alien was an excellent opportunity for the studios to capitalize on a built-in audience. The flip side of this coin, however, is that the devoted fans already endeared to the franchise would accept nothing less than perfection from the film.

While the first film focused more on horror, having one menacing alien monster hunt a small crew of unarmed men and women, the second film veers into the action genre with tough armed and armored marines taking on a plethora of the aliens, called Xenomorphs. That is not to say that the film does away with the horror elements of its predecessor, as there are still more than a few edge-of-your-seat moments.

The main protagonist is Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who has been kept alive in stasis for 50 years in her lifeboat after surviving the events of the first film. She is found and brought back to civilization, only to be met with skepticism after she recounts the events that took place aboard the Nostromo.

The planet where Ripley and her crew encountered the alien eggs has been colonized, and contact has been lost with its colonists. Ripley is then approached by company representative Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) and Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) of the Colonial Marines to accompany them on a journey to the planet to investigate. She initially declines, but after having reoccurring nightmares involving the creature, reluctantly agrees to go with them.

The special effects team really delivered for this film. All of the aliens, anticipated by the audience from the title, look extremely menacing, with sharp fangs, a black insect-like exterior, and dripping saliva. The massive queen alien is particularly breathtaking. This thing is straight out of your nightmares and it is brought to life with striking realism. Every single creature in this film will make one want to take off and nuke the site from orbit.

A sequel to Alien could have failed in a lot of different ways, which I’m sure had many fans worried at the time. A film that completely switched genres, from the horror atmosphere of the first film to a more action-oriented formula, could have been an absolute train wreck. Thankfully, the film not only met expectations, but exceeded them.

Aliens does the impossible; the sequel separates itself from its predecessor to such a degree that people can judge it based on its own merits and not on the template set by the first film. Make no mistake, both films share many aspects and they are still two films in the same franchise, but the complete genre and style switch by Cameron allows fans to appreciate the first film for its horror, and the second film for its action. Aliens just doesn’t contain any of the ‘same-old’ feel that many sequels suffer from.

The film is directed by James Cameron, fresh off his first successful film The Terminator. Cameron proved in this film that he was the director to turn to for action films. Here, he does a masterful job of both following in a franchise’s footsteps and keeping both films separate enough so as not to draw competition.

This is one of my personal favorite action films, right up alongside Cameron’s Terminator films, and the more realistic action films like Die Hard and John Wick. In fact, I think that this film is the best sequel ever made (okay, maybe excluding The Empire Strikes Back).