I loved "Aliens" and think it is the best film of the franchise. It's an action-packed sequel to the original that establishes Lt. Ripley as a certifiable badass by the closing credits. But it is also, in my opinion, one of the better depictions of Marine infantry life.
Despite it being set far in the future and their name being "Colonial Marines" the second of the "Alien" franchise gives a good look inside the grunt life dynamic. Here's why:
1. All they really care about is finding the aliens and killing them.
Marines can conduct humanitarian, peacekeeping, and ceremonial duties, but infantry Marines train year-round for just one thing: combat. Understandably, grunts want to test that training in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Colonial Marines heading to LV-426 think the exact same way. While being briefed before the mission by their lieutenant, they are completely uninterested in the details of rescuing colonists.
The sentiment is summed up in what Vasquez tells Ripley: "I only want to know one thing [about the aliens]," she says, while imitating firing a gun with her fingers. "Where. They. Are."
2. They know how to pull pranks.
If you put grunts together for any extended period of time, they will inevitably pull pranks on each other. As part of the bonding and camaraderie of being close, Marine infantrymen will mess with each other's uniforms, food, or build MRE-powered tear gas. In the movie "Aliens," there's no better example of this than when Drake holds down Pvt. Hudson's hand as Bishop stabs the table in between his fingers.
He's shocked, terrified, and he didn't think the prank was very funny. To the rest of the grunts watching, it was very, very funny.
3. There's at least one whiny private who won't shut the hell up.
There's at least one in every platoon. No matter what is going on, this junior-ranking grunt is guaranteed to complain about something. There's a reason why "Man this floor is freezing," is the first line uttered by Pvt. Hudson. It sets the tone for what will be a constant theme throughout the movie.
Hudson's brain knows only that his recruiter lied, the food here is terrible, he should've joined the Coast Guard, and we're never going to make it out of here. "Game over, man! Game over!" You know he's super annoying when even the civilian embedded with the platoon thinks he needs to shut up.
4. They are experts at talking crap to each other.
Marine grunts know how to talk smack to each other. Even worse, if someone shows any sign of weakness, the rest of the platoon will just pile on with more insults. But it's all good: They do it only because they love them.
The grunts in "Aliens" play this part very well, and there are many great zingers and insults thrown out throughout the movie. Upon waking up, Drake says, "They ain't paying us enough for this man," to which Vasquez quickly responds: "Not enough to have to wake up to your face, Drake."
And there are many others. Here's a sampling:
Drake: "Hey Hicks, you look just like I feel."
Hudson (to Vasquez): "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" Her response: "No. Have you?"
Frost (to Lt. Gorman): "What are we supposed to use man, harsh language?"
Hudson (to Vasquez): "Right right, somebody said alien, she thought they said 'illegal alien' and signed up."
5. Their gear doesn't work very well.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, but my guess is that much like the U.S. Marine Corps, the Colonial Marine Corps is underfunded and gets hand-me-down gear from the Colonial Army. They should be outfitted with high-speed futuristic gear but instead they get helmet cams that send back grainy pictures, and their radios work intermittently right when they need them the most.
And then there are the motion sensors. These things seem like a really cool piece of gear, giving the Marines the ability to sense movement around them and respond to threats. But the sensors include fatal flaws: They capture all movement — even little mice — and there is no way of distinguishing on what level of the complex it is coming from. The Marines think something is right in front of them, but it could be three levels above them.
"Movement! Multiple signals!" Hudson says, to which Apone asks, "what's the position?"
He says he can't lock in. Of course! Of course he can't lock in. You just know the Army version gives all this information and you can probably click a button to vaporize the aliens. But hey, Marines make do.
6. The platoon sergeant is a crusty old-timer who doesn't take any crap.
Marine infantry platoons are usually led by a staff sergeant or gunnery sergeant who simultaneously commands the respect of his commander and the platoon. In Sgt. Apone, "Aliens" excels in bringing to life a character grunts know well in real life. Just like an old platoon sergeant of mine throwing in a wad of Copenhagen right after he brushes his teeth (what, why?!?), Apone puts a cigar in his mouth seconds after he wakes up.
And then there's his "another glorious day in the Corps" speech, his use of the phrase "assholes and elbows," and his wonderful way of chewing out Pvt. Hudson. There's some added realism to this one: Al Matthews, who played Apone in the film, served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam.
7. They are pretty much pissed off all the time.
Among outsiders, grunts pretend like they love their job and it's the greatest thing in the world. Meanwhile, they are really thinking that it's pretty annoying that higher isn't telling them anything. Lance Cpl. Smith over there thinks this mission is total B.S. And the rest of the platoon can't wait to get out of this hellhole of Afghanistan and get back to important stuff, like drinking beer.
A similar sentiment permeates among the Colonial Marines, which Frost sums up pretty well after he wakes up and proclaims, "I hate this job."
8. The boot lieutenant has no clue what he's doing, and everyone knows it.
Brand new Marine second lieutenants are assigned to their own infantry platoons soon after they finish Infantry Officer Course, and "Aliens" captures this perfectly in Lt. Gorman, a super-boot (Marine-speak for total new guy) officer who has very little experience. While officers are treated with courtesy, it takes time and experience before they earn the respect of their platoon.
Gorman doesn't do too well in the respect department right off the bat, opting not to sit with his men at chow: "Looks like he's too good to sit with the rest of us grunts," says Cpl. Hicks.
When asked how many drops he had been on while enroute to LV-426, Gorman says (while looking totally freaked out): "38. Simulated." As for combat drops, he says, "Uhh, two. Including this one." The grunts onscreen and in the audience react similarly in thinking, "Oh no."
Later on in the movie, he completely loses communication with his men, then he freaks out and loses control. And like any good second lieutenant, he ends up getting lost (and then cornered by a bunch of aliens). You just know his story is now a tactical decision game (TDG) at the Colonial Marine Infantry Officer Course.