“My mommy always said there were no monsters—no real ones—but there are.”

It’s rare that a sequel surpasses the original. Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight come to mind. I’m actually pretty new to the Alien franchise, but, after watching the second installment, I believe Aliens fits that bill too. Alien was a brilliant movie, but the sequel Aliens was phenomenal. Directed by James Cameron (Terminator 2, Avatar) and starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, and Paul Reiser, this is an action-packed sci-fi thriller that maintains the depth and suspense of the original but brings the energy up to the highest frenetic levels.

The plot opens with Eileen Ripley’s escape ship being discovered by a deep-space mining ship. She comes out of stasis and relays to them the events of the first movie. Initially, the company that funded her original mission doesn’t believe her—until an outpost on the planet she originally encountered the alien on goes dark. She’s invited as a consultant to a group of space marines that go in to investigate. But when they discover the settlement is now overrun by aliens, they find themselves in a terrifying fight for their lives that’s more than any of them bargained for.

That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?

Aliens greatly expands on the world created in its predecessor, which was admittedly fairly limited. We see much more of how humans and society have progressed, as well as what the aliens are like. The writing is great. The marines are just as crass and audacious as you would expect, but they still have a depth to them. Ripley herself is strong, independent, and decisive and carries much of the plot herself. The surprise hit was the little girl, Newt. I was a little nervous when I heard that a child was a major character, but she’s a great character—likable and stronger than you would expect, and very well-acted as well.

Newt in Aliens
The surprise hit was this little girl named Plot Device. Oops, sorry—her name is Newt.

For all of the world-building and character development, though, the film doesn’t pull any punches in the suspense department. From the moment the marines land, they’re in serious danger, and the odds look hopelessly stacked against them. There are a few times they heighten the suspense by placing Newt in danger, but there’s plenty of urgency created in less manipulative ways as well. Having a squad of marines on-hand makes for a lot more explosive action than the darkly quiet first movie, and the fights are well-done. The final fight scenes with Ripley were particularly well-crafted and I caught myself with my mouth agape for a few moments.

Aliens is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that’s both a great action movie and a great sci-fi movie—a rare achievement. I’ve talked at length about the action, but the film has some of the classic sci-fi elements as well, such as ethics and an exploration of the effects of new discoveries on humanity. It’s dark (though not quite as dark as the original), though very fast-paced and energetic—enough to satisfy any action fan. Make sure to watch the first one before this one, but I would highly recommend this film to most mature audiences.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 2:17
Director: James Cameron
Year: 1986
Genres: action, sci-fi, thriller
Rating: R

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