After Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, James Cameron scored a major hit with the nihilist action flick The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, so it made sense then that he was brought on to direct the sequel to Alien. Cruder than the original, Aliens is a distinctly greedy mega-production. For sure, there’s only so many times you can tell the same story and rewrite the same set pieces: Because the film’s human melodramas play second fiddle to the kick-ass action sequences, it’s obvious that 20th Century Fox wanted to bank on the success of the original film.
Some time after its release, Alien began to develop a following among feminists, confirmed when one of my film school professors would frequently reference the set design’s phallic and vaginal imagery. But it’s Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) battle to be heard by the film’s alpha males and mother ship that truly resonates today. This mostly subtextual war of the sexes is on whorish display throughout Aliens: the mother alien is referred to as a “badass” by Bill Paxton’s insufferable Hudson; Ripley’s cigar-chomping sergeant doesn’t think she can do anything; and the tough, eager-to-please Latina lesbian who calls Ripley “Snow White” is teased for looking like a man.
After floating in space for 57 years, Ripley is picked up by a salvage ship and is treated like a rape victim by a money-minded conglomerate. After her feminine insight gets the better of everyone, she helps spearhead a mission back to the alien planet after the ship loses contact with its colonists. Plot holes abound, but more tragic is the sorry lot of archetypical characters a fierce Ripley has to rub shoulders with; you can tell exactly in what order everyone will die depending on how nondescript, polite, hysterical, or evil the characterization.
Aliens is a “guy movie” through and through, right down to the “get away from her, you bitch” female-on-female violence (Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill must have been watching Dynasty while writing their screenplay). The director’s cut of the film hauntingly amplifies Ripley’s disconnect from her dead daughter and her relationship to the young Newt (essentially a substitute for her creepy pet cat). Otherwise, the film’s human interactions are nowhere near as interesting as Cameron’s deft direction of action and use of non-alien space (the “Remote Sentry Weapons” killing spree may be Cameron’s finest moment).