The team arrives on the distant planet to find that a new colony has been wiped out by a plethora of aliens. These nasty creatures are huge, fast, powerful, and smart. They're also really ugly, especially their jaws, and have plenty of writhing tentacles. They have acid for blood and are predictably tough to kill.
Only one colony member has survived: a pretty little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), who soon becomes inseparable from Ripley. Early battles with the aliens go badly, and have triggered a self destruct mechanism that will blow up the planet. Can Ripley and company get out in time, without taking any aliens with them?
How others will see it. At the time of writing, this 22-year old film is ranked #65 on the imdb.com Top 250. Because of its violence, it isn't for everyone, but those in search of a sci-fi rush need look no further.
How I felt about it. Critics have observed that Cameron was ideal for directing (and writing the screenplay for) Aliens. This is because his films tend to star a tough heroine who perseveres. Certainly, that was the pattern in The Terminator and Titanic. While the female lead does gets some help from men, in the end, Ripley has to battle the Queen alien by herself.
Aliens takes the Strong Woman theme of Cameron two steps farther, by adding a Strong Girl (Henn) and a tomboy marine (Goldstein). The male characters are comparatively ineffective, such as whiner/jerk Bill Paxton, or even at cross purposes, such as duplicitous villain Paul Reiser. Male characters who believe they are in charge, such as drill sergeant Al Matthews or corporal Michael Biehn, end up out of action or taking orders from Weaver.
As in Alien, crew members are killed off one by one, with the major exception of Ripley. Her luck holds out against prohibitive odds, especially when she rescues Newt from her slimy cocoon. Who in their right mind would re-enter alone an alien-infested building that is about to explode. Ripley wouldn't do it for anyone else (particularly Paul Reiser), but she will risk her life (repeatedly) for Newt, because she has assumed the role of her mother.
It's all very exciting, to be sure, and that admittedly is what matters. But the thrill of the moment doesn't make the action completely convincing. Would the alien really let go of Ripley's ankle before Ripley lets go of the ladder rung? Can Ripley really defeat a quick and multiple appendaged two story alien mano a mano within a clumsy suit of heavy machinery? What exactly is demonstrated by Bishop moving a knife at lightning speed around Bill Paxton's hand? And why do the aliens always stand still, then stick out their jaw, before getting down to business?
But these are minor quibbles. The aliens are scary, the Marines are excited, Ripley is fearless, and the little girl survives unharmed. It's exactly as we hope it will be. And it is done with such suspense and adrenaline that we don't care if the individual scene doesn't completely add up.