How do you follow up on Alien? possibly the best of its genre, horror sci-fi. This was the problem facing the Fox Studios when their “B-movie monster flick” became a worldwide box office smash in 1979. The solution it seems would be to go for a different genre altogether, the sci-fi action adventure, add an “s” to the title making it pleural, throw as many of the beasts as you could at the sole human survivor from Alien, and challenge her to get out of that one.
James Cameron's Aliens picks up the story 57 years after the events on board the Nostromo. A deep space salvage crew stumbles upon Ripley's escape craft. She learns from Carter Burke (Paul Rieser), the company's liaison with Ripley, that she has slept through the life and death of her only daughter, she is being held responsible for the destruction of the companies space ship, and 60 families of terra-forming colonists are now living on the planet where the alien spaceship was first discovered. When contact with the planet is lost, Ripley is approached by Burke and Lt. Gorman (William Hope), the leader of a crack squad of Colonial Marines, to re-visit the planet and find out what has gone wrong. Haunted with nightmares Ripley reluctantly agrees.
Cameron has sensibly decided to take a different route to the original Alien, and has made an outstanding war movie, with the relationship between Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn), the only survivor left on the planet, as the emotional soul. Cameron has often said that all his stories are basically love stories, and this one explores how far a mother is prepared to go for the love of a child. Don't get me wrong, there are no emotional hang-ups in the picture, and it never gets in the way of the first-rate pacing and exceptional action, but it does provide believable motivation for Ripley. After all she had been through in the first movie, the audience needs to be convinced she would be willing to go through it all a second time.
Those of you familiar with the work of James Cameron (Terminator, True Lies) will be aware he has a small troupe of regular actors in most of his movies including Lance Henrikson who plays Bishop, a synthetic or artificial life form as he prefers to be called, and Michael Biehn, and Bill Paxton who play Hicks and Hudson, two of the squad of Colonial Marines sent to sort out the alien menace. They all prove again why Cameron is keep to work with them, turning in sound and believable performances. If the first movie was about the alien, then this is about Ripley, and Sigourney Weaver is outstanding and fully deserving of her Oscar nomination, providing an emotional depth and physical toughness at the same time. The alien queen may have no trouble dealing with a rock hard group of soldiers, but don't mess with a pissed off mother!!
Aliens proves that sequels can be as entertaining and worthy as the original, if they extend the characters, and change the premise. Throw in a good story and top notch action director and you get another box office smash. Easily as enjoyable as Ridley Scott's film but for different reasons this is a definite winner.