2017 | rated R | starring Frank Grillo, Iko Uwais | directed by Liam O’Donnell | 1rh 46mins |
Studio Pitch: Make Skyline, but better
Originally directed by special effects artists Colin and Greg Strause, 2010’s Skyline was a weak alien invasion film, but a terrific special effects demo reel. Trying to mask a small budget that went into great creature effects, Skyline played out as an alien invasion chamber film – two diametrically opposed styles if there ever where – where our heroes held up and hid in an LA high rise and watched space ships overhead, monsters pound the ground and blue light beams whisk people to captivity. It was a frustratingly inert experience that took itself very, very seriously.
By that standard, Beyond Skyline is a movie leaps and bounds better. Original film co-writer Liam O’Donnell takes the helm and quickly gets our characters on the move. Mr. Purge, Frank Grillo again steps right into the role of the go-to B-movie action hero, this time as the hard-boiled cop out on leave just trying to keep his somewhat estranged son out of trouble. The alien warships hover in and the chaos stops the subway they’re on, giving them a way to survive and meet the hard-boiled subway car driver (Bojana Novakovic) who makes one hell of a quick leap from subway driver to action hero.
After this little setup for the cliché characters and the vicious monsters the movie dove-tails back into the promise at the end of Skyline. Soon we’re exploring the inside of the ship and all of it’s brain-swapping machinery. Where the Strause brothers tried to work this into a serious sci-fi thriller they didn’t have the budget or vision to realize, O’Donnell goes for B-movie nonsense. He doesn’t fully achieve it but the tonal switch is an improvement. The wildest thing about Beyond and the area where O’Donnell most indulges in movie geek fan service, is the casting of Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid series. If you saw The Raid and ever wanted to see Uwais bust out his fighting skills on a 6 foot alien, O’Donnell has it covered here. Between this and their Force Awakens cameos, it’s funny to me that Uwais and Ruhian seem to have a rivalry that busted out of The Raid and rolled through several other movies.
Skyline shifts geography again in it’s third act. O’Donnell embraces the direct-to-video inevitability of it all and goes for a full R rating. Limbs are ripped off and blood sprays. Between the aliens, the giant mechs and the body modifying weapons Beyond Skyline comes off like the kind of movie Neill Blomkamp might make if he dialed into schlock monster fun instead of making pompous message films about how humans are terrible and destroying the Earth. The group of direct to video sequels that are actually better than their previous entry – and much better as this is – is a very small, exclusive club. It might even just be Don Mancini’s Curse of Chucky. So Beyond Skyline is a small but notable achievement. Still, it never gets as crazy as it needs to be. There is no moment where the movie hits escape velocity goes completely bonkers that would have elevated it to proper midnight viewing.
It still can’t help but drag around too many rotten elements of the first film. If this were the first film, this would be a very different story, it would feel like a promising franchise that just hasn’t found their footing yet. While O’Donnell has all the right ideas here and makes all the right narrative decisions (and the special effects are as great as ever) he doesn’t quite have the filmmaking accumen to gin this up into the fun and crazy excitement it needs.