This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Buckley’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
One of the toughest tasks ever for a young director must be coming to a series that, was not only started by another filmmaker, but began with what is one of the most iconic genre movies ever, and having to make a sequel that not only expands on its story & mythology without turning into ridiculous fanfiction (*cough Alien: Resurrection cough*), but also taking the young series in an entirely new direction, to the point where it goes into a completely different genre, without any of it feeling forced, or clashing with the world its predecessor created. However, not only did James Cameron willingly choose to do so with Aliens, turning the Sci-Fi/Horror of the original into all-out action, but he actually succeeded in doing so, far, FAR beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Cameron accomplishes this near-miracle by carefully, gradually transitioning us away from Ridley Scott's Horror-centric vision into his own more intense, testosterone-fueled one, while still showing respect for the world his predecessor created. Throughout the first hour of Aliens, there are moments of horror, suspense, and quiet tension that evoke the original, and composer James Horner even reuses musical cues from Jerry Goldsmith's original score. You could almost fool yourself into thinking Scott had returned to direct this one as well, except for the much more pragmatic, utilitarian production design, as opposed to the more off-beat, artistic vibe of the original.
Pretty much all the props, sets, and effects here feel very practical and real-world, with personal gun rigs, military dropships, and huge hydralic loaders shown in operation early on, all of which actually come into real use further down the line. It might've just been the HD remaster I watched, but almost every object and item in Aliens looked gloriously, unabashedly REAL, unlike the plastic CGI fests of today's blockbusters, and Cameron uses this feel of real to ease us into his more visceral take on the franchise.
But, another strength of Aliens is its unusually strong, subtle, detailed character development; obviously, Ripley gets the most screentime, transforming from a nightmare-suffering, post-traumatic-stress-disorder ridden survivor, into a woman of action who conquers all her fears (by blowing them up). We see this in details like her slowly but surely taking charge of the Coloniel Marines over the incompotent Lieutenant Gorman, forming an unbreakable mother-daughter relationship with fellow survivor Newt, or learning how to use a Marine assault rifle (which comes into play during the film's spectacular climaxes... yes, climaxeS), but she isn't the only character who gets a turn to shine here.
The supporting characters also grow for better or worse, like the way Bishop goes from being a creepy, mistrusted "synthetic" to an indispensable partner, the initially benign Carter showing his true colors as a greedy, immoral company man, or Hicks becoming a reluctant leader after the initial hive massacre. This keeps us invested in the action as things keep going more and more south, with Cameron taking us on an apocalyptic "express elevator to Hell", a roller coaster ride through the literal belly of the beast, with tension, drama, and carnage sustained at a high rate throughout, without ever becoming gratuitous or tiresome. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is exactly as good as the original (very, very few films are), but when it comes to not only getting a sequel, but an ACTION sequel, Aliens is the best possible thing that could've resulted. Well done Mr. Cameron, well done indeed.