In the previous review, we talked about how Ripley — the last survivor of an alien attack — was asked to consult a team of marines while they explored a settlement that has not communicated with The Cooperation for some time. This settlement was on the planet where Ripley and her crew had picked up the hostile alien which attacked them. The fear is that this same species has now wiped out the settlers. Ripley reluctantly agrees, and sure enough, when they reach the settlement, they find it abandoned. Only one child remains. Her name is Newt, and she tells Ripley and the marines that everyone is dead. However, Hudson, one of the marines, finds the settlers in a sublevel of the complex. The marines go to rescue them while Ripley, Burke, Newt, and Lieutenant Gorman stay behind on a tank that the marines used to reach the complex. Lieutenant Gorman gives the men orders as they enter the sublevels of the building.
It seems Newt was right about the settlers being killed. They’ve all been wrapped in a bizarre cocoon, and it looks like they’ve been dead for some time, but as the marines continue their work, they find one person remaining. She wakes up and begs to be killed as an alien comes out of her chest. The marines destroy the newborn alien with flamethrowers, and this wakes up the whole hive. Adult aliens start coming from the walls and attacking the marines. Confused, the marines try to shoot their way out of the situation but seem to be getting nowhere. During this pivotal moment, Lieutenant Gorman freezes. Ripley is forced to take charge. She drives the tank into the settlement, bursting through walls and creating an opening for the marines to escape. The surviving marines find the tank and manage to get inside before they are completely overrun. Then Ripley drives them out of the complex.
I’d like to pause here and take a moment to talk about Ripley as a character. Female action stars are all the rage in modern films, but most of them are treated with contempt by many moviegoers, who will see Ripley as a prime example of a true action hero. I think their complaints are justified. Unlike many of the recent female protagonists, Ripley is allowed to suffer. She doesn’t want to go on this mission. She’s afraid. The marines treat her with contempt because they consider her weak. Most importantly, Ripley is given a moment of decision, a moment where she could panic or rise to the occasion. We watch her decide to be a hero when Gorman freezes in shock. We see her take control of the situation, not because she’s hyper-competent, not because she feels entitled to leadership and insists that others recognize her brilliance, but because she must. She’s worked in the cargo docks, so she is the only person on that tank besides Gorman who would have any idea how to drive it. In this moment, she goes from being the lone survivor in a sci-fi slasher film to an action hero. The hero hasn’t fully manifested yet, because driving the tank is an impulsive decision, but later, the hero will emerge to save Newt, not out of necessity, but because it’s the right thing to do. However, before that moment of nobility and courage can happen, a character must be pushed to the point where they have to do something or perish. Only after they’ve survived this first trial, can they find the strength to do the right thing when it would be easier to go home.
There’s a sequence of events that must take place to build a hero. But before that sequence can start, the hero must be weak. They have to be vulnerable in some way because the story isn’t about the aliens or — as strange as it might be to say — even the plot. Nearly every story is about either growth or a fall, a tragedy or a comedy if you will.
The Hero Must Be Vulnerable
Take the Rambo franchise for instance. First Blood is about a fall because the movie is showing what happens when a good man, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, snaps because society treats him with contempt. In that movie, you see a strong man succumbing to despair. But the sequel flips that formula. It puts Rambo in a vulnerable place. He believes he’s expendable, and only when the female lead comes back to save him while he’s being tortured does he find the strength to escape and wreak vengeance on the bad guys. Even the mighty Rambo started from a place of weakness.
Hypercompetent characters don’t work. There must be room to grow. Aliens understands this, and it took a character from a middle-of-the-road sci-fi horror flick and used her trauma as an obstacle to overcome. Once she overcame that obstacle, Ripley turned into one of cinema’s most beloved action stars. Not because she’s a woman, but because she earned her victories through suffering. Today’s movies are afraid to put their female leads under too much strain, which is why the characters often come across as bitter for no apparent reason, or even preachy.
Once Ripley rescues the marines, they try to call in a ship to pick them up. But their ship was in another part of the settlement and an alien was able to board it. The alien kills the pilot and the ship crashes nearby. The crew is now stranded. To make matters worse, one of the machines providing power to the settlement is damaged and expected to explode. Ripley and the surviving marines have four hours to escape the settlement, assuming the aliens don’t kill them first. Bishop, the robot, tells them that he can use the settlement’s satellite equipment to fly another ship down to the planet remotely. He heads toward this satellite while the others hide in one of the complex’s rooms which is beside the medical lab. They try to weld all the possible entrances shut so the aliens can’t get inside. This works about as well as one might expect. We’ll cover what happens next in the following review.