Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
In hindsight it was a brilliant move to hire James Cameron to direct this film, as it would become one of his best-regarded action masterpieces, but what a mad choice it must have seemed at the time. Here was a tyrannical perfectionist who wanted to make a very different film from the established original (with its protective fans) at an exponentially higher budget, and he barely had time to finish it on schedule. Fortunately for the studio, Cameron was and is a professional, and for every time he gets carried away ("Titanic"), he has two more occasions where he pushes the absolute limits of the budget and shooting schedule without breaking them. (One of my favorite bits of trivia about "Terminator 2" is that Cameron made the entire film, from germinal concept to final theatrical cut, in nine months, and yet it was a massive production with the then-highest budget in movie history. This man knows his shit.)
"Aliens" doesn't rebel against its series, but it certainly belongs more to James Cameron than any other person involved, real or fictional. With its all-consuming obsession with futuristic military gear, with its muscle-bound female warriors (this is "Mom as Action Hero"), with its restless ambition tempered with a professional's contentment for delivering the goods, this is an archetypical Cameron film, and his talent as an action filmmaker is worth regarding so highly as to transcend the film itself in importance. If you have ever felt that burst of adrenaline at Ripley snarling "get away from her you bitch!", then you have enjoyed a master at work in his genre, on par with Hitchcock at thrillers and Lean at epics.
The film has its weaknesses, such as Bill Paxton's aggressive brand of buffoonery and an unsatisfying epilogue after the astounding final spectacle. But there aren't words enough to recommend this film as a powder keg of dynamite entertainment. For those who don't like sci-fi action films, this is one of the few worth seeing for its appealing filmcraft; for those who love the subgenre, there's no explanation needed. This is one of the all-time greats.