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Alien: Resurrection at 25: Reassessing the much-maligned, franchise-ending sequel

Alien: Resurrection (R16, 109 min.) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet ***½

Responsible for more nightmares than virtually any other film trilogy (as well as some great catchphrases), the first three Alien films redefined the sci-fi and horror genres of the 1980s and early ’90s.

Across three different film styles (reflecting their respective directors – Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and David Fincher), they told the story of science officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her struggles against an acid-blooded species whose sole purpose seemed to be to wipe out everything , with which it came into contact (but especially people).

In 1979, Alien, Ripley and their crew disrupted the Xenomorph and nearly all were wiped out on an otherwise lifeless planet. Aliens picked up the story seven years later when Ripley’s “lifeboat,” the Narcissus, was rescued by her employers. To their dismay, it’s half a century later and the aforementioned planet has now been colonized – and officials are only now scratching their heads as to why communications were cut, finally deciding to send in the military.

Finally, in 1992’s Alien 3, another shuttle lands with Ripley in a penal colony. Unfortunately, it also houses one of the beasts that wreaks all sorts of havoc when it erupts.

Seemingly fed up with all this bad luck – and intent on preventing the alien from causing further death and destruction – she decided to put an end to it all.

James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens was a very different beast than Alien: Resurrection.

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But of course, 20th Century Fox, a company that would become synonymous with reboots and endless franchises, decided they still hadn’t had enough of the Xenomorphs, and concocted this 1997 entry some 200 years after Ripley’s apparent death.

As the film begins, we discover that a team of scientists have been busy perfecting human cloning and finally achieving what they set out to do – create a copy of Ripley in order to obtain the unborn alien destined to die at the time of her death grew within her . Their ultimate goal – to breed the Xenomorphs and train them to be part of a chemical weapons department for the military.

To this end, they have hired a group of mercenaries to ‘acquire’ cryotubes so that the humans inside can be used as ‘hosts’. But everyone from Ripley Clone 8 to the Mercenaries and the Xenomorphs themselves have different ideas about it – and once the acid-blooded beasts are unleashed, it looks like the same old murder and mayhem will be unleashed.

Sigourney Weaver returned for a final appearance as Ellen Ripley in 1997's Alien Resurrection.

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Sigourney Weaver returned for a final appearance as Ellen Ripley in 1997’s Alien Resurrection.

After Scott’s haunted house in space, Cameron’s breathless, high-octane firefight, and Fincher’s grossly underrated gothic thriller, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) was hired to bring his own style to this installment.

A specialist in vivid, visceral backdrops and surreal imagery, his signature flourishes are all present and correct. Textures and lighting give the central space station environment a very organic feel, while Jeunet adds humor to lighten the gore and overall tense mood (a move that occasionally stutters and is more the result of screenwriter Joss Whedon – who would later go further to create the first two Avengers films and the much-maligned Justice League – sensibilities). And of course, as you’d expect, those with a nervous disposition should be aware that there are more than a few shocks and things designed to make you squirm.

Winona Ryder played the mysterious Cal in Alien: Resurrection.

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Winona Ryder played the mysterious Cal in Alien: Resurrection.

Indeed, after Weaver was – somewhat reluctantly – pushed back for one last fight, it looks like she’s enjoying herself here by playing a Ripley that’s both amoral and dangerous to know. Ripley is a rarely recurring film character whose experiences have changed the way she looks at life. Now she’s unconcerned about anything because she’s already been killed. Weaver deftly brings this attitude to the surface while at the same time demonstrating her private grief over her loss of identity (as a result of cloning).

Joining her this time is another intriguing and memorable ensemble cast that includes Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif and Winona Ryder, with the latter playing well outside of her traditional comfort zone. At first she seems miscast as mercenary Cal, but as the film progresses the talent of the former Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice star shines through and we discover why she felt so out of place.

Sure, the ending is polarizing, to say the least (and a portent of many blockbuster franchises in the quarter century that followed), but what might have been an afterthought that ruined the series’ credibility was actually not just a surprisingly hilarious romp, but also quite the thought provoking.

Such a combination helped Scott revitalize the franchise via the 2012 prequel Prometheus, but only after the two horrifying, soulless, unholy disasters that were the monstrous Alien vs. Predator mashups.

Alien: Resurrection is now available to stream on Disney+.

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