Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection (Twentieth Century Fox) is like a girl who disappears from view for a chunk of time claiming she’s sick with an intestinal bug, only to come back looking better than ever with bitchin’ deltoids, and you think, Yeah, right, a bug — I’ll have what she’s having. When last we saw Weaver’s Lieut. Ellen Ripley, the fabulous, sylphy, unsmiling, ammo-hauling heroine of Alien, Aliens, and Alien3, she was banged up, bony, stubble-headed, and executing a convincing reverse swan dive to a fiery death. Ripley’s was a selfless gesture meant to rid the universe of the tenacious plug-ugly menace she thought she had eradicated, time and again, only to discover after all those battles that she was carrying the damn thing — this evil, this unshakable malaise — inside her, where it was gestating sweet as a baby, or maybe festering resilient as a virus. Weaver’s, meanwhile, was a career choice meant to say, Enough with the flamethrowers and bikini underpants already.
Hah. Why shut down one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises just because of a little death? By rocketing ahead 200 years from the previous film and jiggering the story cleverly (with a script by Toy Story coscreenwriter Joss Whedon as late-’90s wiseacreish as Alien3 was early-’90s portentous) to create a Ripley reconstructed through a mix of human and alien DNA, Alien Resurrection power-kicks the whole definition of the Horrifying Other into a fresh, deep, exhilaratingly thoughtful, millennium-sensitive direction: We have met the alien, and they is us. It unveils a new Ripley as morally complex, detached, and even as playful as the old gal was grim. It gives the 18-year-old series plenty of juice to power a fifth installment.
And it shows us a Sigourney Weaver in glorious late-40s bloom, owning this highly satisfying film with a talent, ease, and sexual confidence that can only come of personal and professional ripening.
The guts of any Alien movie, of course, are the high-tension confrontations between vulnerable humans in their unmoored isolation and amoral monsters. In this case, the crew, in an uneasy business alliance with a scuzzy band of smugglers (including a gruff and lively Ron Perlman), must battle creatures that have been breeding on board (the devil’s price for Ripley’s rebirth) and flee the ship before they’re all devoured. And as directed by the French Jean-Pierre Jeunet with the kind of visual panache he brought to Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, Alien Resurrection doesn’t stint on the chases. Indeed, the most spectacular action sequence, staged underwater, not only showcases the elegance of alien effects by Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis but also pays lovely homage to the watery glories of The Poseidon Adventure. And Jeunet salts the film with well-placed references to previous Alien chapters as well: Corrosive yellow alien spew eats through metal as effectively as it did in the 1979 original; Ripley is observed sleeping, and perchance dreaming, as she hoped to do at the end of Aliens; tanks filled with the grotesque human-hybrid results of botched experiments recall the tanks previously filled with creature experiments; etc.
But what is most pleasing in Alien Resurrection is also what is newest: There’s a philosophical maturity to Ripley’s cool, ambivalent, but not uncompassionate outlook that reinvigorates everything from Ripley’s embodiment of motherhood (she’s now mommy to her own monster) to our own view of action heroines (they’re not always nice).
And nowhere is this more evident than in Ripley’s relationship to a bratty little match girl of an onboard mechanic named Annalee Call, as well as in Weaver’s own relationship to Winona Ryder, the gamine actress who plays her. For reasons that will unfold, Call is often a pain in the butt, and Ripley simultaneously puts her in her place and encourages her moral growth. For reasons known best to Hollywood, on the other hand, Ryder occupies key real estate in Alien Resurrection, even though she is a jarringly weak link in the dramatic chain. To watch Weaver interact with Ryder in a ballet of comradeship (Here, kid, I’ll show you how it’s done) and competition (Stand back, girlie, and gawk) is to see sisterhood in 1997, at least between actresses, one of whom is about as young now as the other was when she first blasted into space a generation ago, little realizing then that a monster with a double set of choppers would be her open-ended ticket to the stars. B+