Alien (movie 1979)
(CW: Sexual assault, sexual themes, reviewer being horny for same.)
I love this movie.
I love the whole aesthetic. I love the grimy future as envisioned by the late 70s. I love that space travel is slow and laborious, unromanticized. I love that everybody is so dang human without it having to be a character study. Just show them unfreezing and eating dinner, it’s not that hard.
I love that Ripley is deeply human and an action movie goddess in equal measure. I love that she’s vulnerable in believable ways but shown to be easily the most competent and capable person in this movie and probably basically any other movie. I love that she saved the hecking cat. I know it’s literally the screenwriting shorthand for “this is a good guy,” but I love it here. I love what it says about her specifically. Also, y’know, KITTY!
I love that my partners put up with me being inexplicably horny for the idea of being choke-fucked by a facehugger or just completely destroyed by a full-fledged Xenomorph. I love how horny this movie is, and that it wants you to be scared of its horny. And I am scared, but more horny than scared. It’s very effectively terrifying and violent, but it’s nevertheless thoroughly horny.
This is just a masterclass in effectively using sex in a horror movie. This movie’s horror is violent, penetrative. It’s thematically about cis boys being at risk for rape and pregnancy, and that hits on so many levels for me. Like, there’s a weird element of wish fulfillment there for me that the filmmakers absolutely did not intend (sorry not sorry I have some pretty intense kinks), but it still works for me on the level they did intend. It’s scary. It’s just that I find scary pretty damn sexy. But like. I’m also genuinely empathetic to the characters this is all happening to. I don’t want it to happen to them, I want it to happen to me!
From the standpoint of fantasy, I mean. It would be hard for me to keep writing these reviews for y’all if any of this happened to me lmao.
For real, though. I love this movie. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. The rest of this marathon is largely going to be pale imitations of this, but I don’t care because even a pale imitation of this still has so much to enjoy.
Aliens (movie 1986)
From easily the best movie I’m going to watch in this marathon to easily the second best movie I’m going to watch in this marathon. James Cameron’s sequel famously genre shifts from horror/scifi to action/scifi, and unsurprisingly he makes about the best action/scifi movie you could possibly make in this franchise. Comparing the first two movies is justifiably considered difficult because they’re apples and oranges, but I’m not afraid to say that I like apples better and I like what Alien is trying to do better than what Aliens is trying to do.
It’s a James Cameron movie, so there is a maximum amount of effort put into every facet of the production. And the genre pivot doesn’t leave behind many of the core aspects of the first movie.
I’ll never not be impressed by the fact that Aliens managed to pull off this genre shift–and send an entire horde of Xenomorphs after our heroes instead of just the one–without sacrificing the feeling that Xenomorphs are unstoppable killing machines and our heroes are hopelessly outmatched against them in combat. Part of this comes from the fact that Aliens is a lot more liberal in killing off characters than you’d expect from most scifi/action movies, but even scenes where characters are imperiled by them but manage to escape really sell them as an absolutely deadly threat. When Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with two facehuggers, they keep just barely managing to avoid being implanted by the skin of their teeth until help arrives, and even when it does (in the form of several heavily-armed space marines no less), the resulting rescue has an air of desperation to it that leaves the audience catching their breath along with the characters.
Ripley continues to be an unmitigated badass in tangible ways while also becoming much more relatable to the audience as she’s fleshed out a bit more. She’s shaken from her trauma, and would much rather stay in her spartan apartment and hug her cat than go back to that place, even with a group of heavily-armed space marines. Once she’s there, she tries to stay out of the line of fire as much as possible, and rolls her eyes at the overly macho marines but lets them do their thing until it all comes crumbling down around them because their leader is useless, at which point she just takes over and everyone just kind of falls in line behind her. All of this without sacrificing who she is as a person, or suggesting that she’s invincible. She’s not a badass because she’s unaffected, she’s a badass because she just keeps going. I love it.
Predator (movie 1987)
(CW: Extremely frank discussion of homophobia/politics and some horniness for murdering space aliens.)
Homoerotic macho posturing (with requiste homophobia to reassure the audience none of them are actually gay) and then imperialist adventures in the jungle of an unspecified Central American country and then a kinda underwhelming stretch where the Predator is shooting guys dead one at a time and then finally we get to the only good part of the movie and it just kind of isn’t even worth it?
The good part, the actually kinda good part is Arnold vs. the Predator, and it’s good mostly because the Predator has so much personality despite spending most of the movie as an invisible killing machine. That little moment where Arnold is basically begging him to come fight him (and walk into a trap in the process) and the Predator, despite presumably not understanding the words he’s yelling or anything else about his cultural context, shrewdly stepping back and approaching from a completely different direction. That was so small but it was so effective. And the preceding parts of the movie that went from “when is the Predator going to show up” to “when is the Predator going to do something interesting” as he just killed soldier after soldier
The preceding portions were entertaining often in spite of themselves, in the way that insecure macho homoeroticism always is when you’re watching it as a queer person. It’s funny, but it’s sad, but it’s just slightly funnier than it is sad. But also at the back of your mind is that the exact same societal forces that demand these characters be given a convincing case of the Not Gays are the ones that are currently working tirelessly to strip you of all the rights you’ve gained since Stonewall.
And no matter how much you can make them a joke when you’re watching a movie that was made under the auspices of their repressive culture of violent conformism, they can and will make you a joke with more deadly consequences. Say did you hear the one about the f****t who walked into the bar. We joked about Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke’s characters being married and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers’ characters being ex-husbands whose arm wrestling contest was to see who was going to top when they had their platonic makeup sex. The culture that demanded the movies’ increasingly implausible “no homo”s is working on outlawing the first two’s marriage, and if they get that they’re gonna come for the second two’s makeup sex.
Alien with its genderblind scripting or Aliens with its background reference (in 1986) to a character being transgender, this is not. (Yeah the language used in Aliens was outdated, but was it still rad as fuck anyway considering the context.)
It might be some consolation that some idiots decided to put these two franchises next to each other which just begs for comparison and having watched Predator after the first two Alien movies yeah wow there is just no comparison. The first two Alien movies are having Predator do their homework after they free it from the locker they shoved it into at the beginning of school. It lives in that locker now. It somehow magically gets lunch money transported to it every day just for Alien and Aliens to take it from it.
On a more petty note, I’ve always wished the Predators had more bondagey weapons. I don’t know, it just seems weird given the whole hunting focus that they don’t use nets and whatnot, and they only ever boringly kill their quarry rather than capturing them. I guess it’s still kinda kinky that they’re treating humans the way humans treat animals or whatever, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.
Also, Arnie is an idiot. The Predator isn’t nearly as cute as a Xenomorph, but he’s cute enough.
Aliens vs. Predator (comic 1989-91)
As the story goes, the first Alien vs. Predator comics were the result of a brainstorming session between writers and executives at Dark Horse Comics. They were apparently initially discussing doing some sort of crossover with DC Comics, and as we’ll see in Part 2 of this review that would eventually end up happening. But during the meeting they apparently realized that they could get started with a pretty big crossover between two entities they already owned. It would be simpler to pull off, and more profitable for them if it worked out.
The first Alien vs. Predators stories appeared as in issues 34-36 of the Dark Horse Presents anthology series in 1989. With the success of this trial balloon, Dark Horse would move on to give Alien vs. Predator its own 4-issue miniseries in 1990, with the previously anthologized short story collected as Alien vs. Predator #0. The last story considered part of this run was another short that appeared in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special in 1991. Collectively, the two short stories acted as a sort of prologue and epilogue to the miniseries.
The story here is understandably quite straightforward, but considering some of the media tie-in comics I’ve slogged through recently (RoboCop vs. Terminator…) I was pleasantly surprised by just how well-executed the whole thing is. I’m on record as a Paul W.S. Anderson stan and an unironic fan of his AVP movie in particular, but I gotta say I actually think the story in this comic makes a lot more sense and I’d love to see a movie somewhat closer to this. (I still want the Paul W.S. Anderson movie though. I’m greedy.)
I appreciate the setting being Alien’s futuristic one rather than Predator’s contemporary one. The mechanics of getting the Xenomorphs and Yautja to fight each other are pretty similar between this and the movie, with the Yautja dropping some Xenomorph eggs on a world to hunt them for sport. And Machiko being adopted by Broken Tusk–the Yautja she befriends–is also echoed in the movie with Lex being adopted by Scar. So the broad strokes are similar, it’s mostly just the setting and details that are different. Plus the comic was able to be a bit less restrained with huge clashes between multiple Xenomorphs and Yautja.
I’m really glad this crossover is as good as it is, and it’s got me looking forward to further stories set in this continuity.
Predator 2 (movie 1990)
There is not a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. There just isn’t. This is the absolute worst. But it ends this first (of three) part of my AVP megareview for one very simple reason: there’s a visual easter egg (a Xenomorph skull in the Predator’s trophy room) that demonstrated that Dark Horse Comics wasn’t the only entity considering bringing these two franchises together for an explosive confrontation.
While we’re on the topic of connections between these two franchises, it’s pretty damn weird that Bill Paxton is a major supporing character in the second installment of both franchises, right?
Let’s see. Positive things. Say something positive. Uh. Well, to reiterate, there isn’t a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. Oh, also, the Predator uses a net gun! Twice! A thing they should really do more often in these movies imo! Thank you for that.
Oh yeah, also also the whole time Danny Glover’s character, uh, Protagonist McCopaganda? Whatever. The whole time he’s on the Predator’s ship this suddenly morphs into a much better movie for a few minutes? And if you’re like me, you’re just so mad because it could have been this at any time? And instead it was… Predator 2???
Yeah, sorry, we’re ending on a downer note. I just don’t even get how a movie can be this mind-numbingly boring and this loudly, offensively bad at the same time. Usually you have to pick one or the other! Everything is just so meandering and unmotivated, but it’s so loud and dumb, and not fun loud and dumb.
This is trash before you even factor in the staggering amounts of racism, misogyny, and copaganda. When you factor those in, it’s mega trash. What a just genuinely unpleasant viewing experience.
I re-reiterate: there isn’t a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. It’s okay. We made it.