I’ve been putting this review off for one simple reason: this movie scares me. Not the movie itself, but the legacy surrounding it. Imdb.com has Aliens it listed at #54 of all time, Rotten Tomatoes has it as a 100% Certified Fresh, and I just thought it was pretty good.
The two big things that everyone seems to be ecstatic about surrounding this movie are
1) Its scariness and intensity: I think this may be one of those times where a movie loses its impact after either 23 years, or my own lifetime of desensitization. If anything, the first half of the movie felt quite laboured, as though the moments of “tension” (ie. walking slowly down a corridor toward God knows what) left me impatient to what was coming next. The pace didn’t really get to “thrilling” until the medical lab scene and onward. I concede that it’s possible that at the time, Aliens was groundbreaking, but unfortunately, I am seeing it from the perspective of someone in 2010, and it doesn’t hit me as hard as it did, so unanimously, back in 1986.
2) Sigourney Weaver/Ripley: It’s open season for you guys to set me right, because this is one of the rare occasions where I feel like I might be wrong. It seems that everyone went absolutely batty about this character and Weaver’s portrayal of her. I found Ripley to be kind of hysterical, often screaming in people’s faces while she shakes them around; although I can’t really blame her, considering the circumstances. My understanding is that what really makes her such an outstanding character is that she’s an autonomous heroine, whose identity is independent of (or at least not subservient to) the men around her. Well, sure, I’d agree with that. I’d also say that it’s shameful that it took that long for such a character to come along. I don’t claim to be an expert in feminist readings, and I’m probably a little naive, but I’m hoping that it’s a good thing that I had to do some research to see why Ripley is such a big deal. Either that, or things have reverted back to the way they were before, which is why Ripley’s aura still remains.
Since she’s her own character, it also gives me the opportunity to say that I didn’t really like her. As I mentioned before, she yells a lot, and is quite hampered by the circumstances of the first movie. She’s often paralyzed by fear of the aliens, cruel to the ship’s android (thanks to the Bilbobot from Alien), and defiant to everyone but herself. Now that I’m writing this down, I’m starting to realize exactly why Ripley is the way she is. Everything she does, and every way she reacts is motivated by something that has happened to her before, much like a real person… Well golly, looks like I just talked myself out of it.
Ripley is obviously not the only character in this movie. Surrounding her are, oddly enough, considerably less developed characters, like meathead Marine, Hudson; bad-ass female Marine, Vasquez; and corporate schmuck, Burke. They, compared to Ripley, are there to serve a single purpose, whether it’s offering humour or inciting hatred. Then there’s the kid, Newt. Newt is the only survivor of a colony that has been attacked by the aliens. Her real reason for being there is to provide Ripley with someone to be maternal toward and protect. She, as a child, is present for the sake of the development of the protagonist, not entirely unlike the secondary role that women have traditionally played in film, acting as accoutrements to their man-heroes. Just sayin’.
The only other character that I particularly cared about was Bishop. After the turncoat business from the last movie, this guy was in a situation where his actions and existence were judged on the behaviour of another android 57 years before. Faced with that kind of prejudice, Lance Henriksen plays Bishop as someone who is simultaneously suspicious and relatable. We assume that Ripley is wrong and is being blinded by the past, but there’s still a tickle in the back of our minds that maybe Bishop really is following in Ash’s footsteps. We feel superior to Ripley for being able to see past his species (see race), but at the same time, maintain a certain leeriness, so that we could say “all along” that we knew that he was evil, if he turned out to be so.
To wrap it all up, Aliens is good. I wouldn’t quite call it a masterpiece, as quite a bit of the film felt hollow, tacked on, or tedious, but it’s still a kinda fun ride that’s more fun to talk about than watch.