Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
The Greg and Colin Strause-directed, independent 2010 critical sci-fi flop, Skyline, left a huge enough dent in box office earnings to warrant some wiggle room for a sequel. Enter Liam O’Donnell, having worked his way up from VFX work on several projects, as well as co-scripting and producing the first film and now sets his sights with a sequel as his directorial debut in Beyond Skyline – a film that by some accounts probably wasn’t expected to happen or even supposed to. It had been four years since the first film and so no one would see an announcement up until 2014, surprising everyone curious and keen, and not for nothing either.
The added touch of throwing in people like Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian would certainly pepper the hype up to a certain degree for fans fond of their work on Merantau, The Raid and it’s sequel; The mere thought of seeing the two for nothing short of an eyeblink in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be enough to ensue an outcry a year later to seeing their roles built more on a sci-fi property in the course of their escalation, and delightfully, O’Donnell achieves this with a formula that makes it all work seven years later in front of festival crowds and current exhibitor audiences in Indonesia.
Attaching Wheelman star, actor Frank Grillo gives us another worthy lead role performance this time as Mark, an ex-cop whose strained relationship with his son, Trent, upon bailing him from out of jail sees both swept into an epic fight for survival. That fight begins within the first ten minutes of the film as an armada of alien ships bear down on Earth with its minions reaching inwards of the buildings and tunnels underground, and the film doesn’t hesitate to keep the film moving as the action moves from the streets of Los Angeles to the nightmarish inner bowels of one of the ships, and eventually the jungles of Prambanan temple grounds of Yogyajakarta.
The script is never hampered by lagging and unwarranted character development from smaller roles, while a number of those are still kept interesting enough to lend weight to the story; Antonio Fargas chews up a few moments of scenery in the first act as a homeless former veteran named Sarge while Jacob Vargas helps audiences warm up to the narrative as Mark’s LAPD cohort, Garcia. Bojana Novakovic makes her entry early on as Audrey, a train conductor whose link derails in the tunnels during the invasion.
The introductory rift between Mark and Trent, the latter played by Johnny Weston, is an ample show of the kind of rigid, albeit copasectic relationship they have; You hear what’s not heard, which is as visbile as their affability considering tragedy is the only thing holding these two adults together, and the last thing Mark wants to do is lose his own son under any circumstances.
Some of the most important developments happen in the second act during Mark’s treacherous journey through the ship and its innerworkings, cohesively weaving the narrative together even more from the very top of the film as we learn not only what makes the aliens tick, but that of the film’s narrator. Further instigation accrues later as Mark and Audrey find themselves crashlanding in Indonesia where they cross paths with siblings Sua and Kanya (Iko Uwais and Pamelyn Chee), armed rebels already in progress fighting local military AND the invading aliens holed up with Harper, a hippie expert in cellular biology who contributes to the film’s revelations confirming Mark’s own beliefs based on what he’s witnessed.
The alien design here is exquisite in its display between practical costuming and visual effects, and with features ranging from shrieking blue eyes to tentacles of various sizes of kinds, whole giant alien bodies made of mechanized armor and others acting as hosts for the human beings they snatch. Much ado with bringing the likes of Uwais and Ruhian aboard anything is the inclusion of some meaty fight action, and O’Donnell makes some of the best and brilliant use of this among our human and non-human characters; A retractable gauntlet which you also see Grillo wear in trailers and footage, gives several of our protagonists a significant boost when going toe-to-toe with aliens in possibly some of the craziest, gory fight scenes you’ll ever see.
A pinnacle moment here occurs in the third act with Grillo and Novakovic along with Uwais and Ruhian as the camera swings around from in an almost Avengers-style shot before some serious asskicking begins, and with it, a rare moment with the latter two fighting side by side in a movie. Next to his continual improvement in English, Uwais’s scope as an actor stretches even further in O’Donnell’s inaugural effort with a script that shows him doing something we’ve never seen him do before, and like any notable action star of yesteryear, he looks and sounds gleefully cool doing it.
The hopeful commercial success for a film as splashy, ambitious and categorically rollicking as Beyond Skyline is a hugely deserved one. Granted, any director, and even a decent one at that, can still make a less-than-acceptable film and even if they’re familiar with the property and its preceding installments in some capacity. As imaginably approving as it is, this defintely is not the case – and with a director no less who, for all intents and purposes, has proven himself in more ways than several.
O’Donnell reinvigorates sci-fi here the same way Pete Travis and Alex Garland did when they rebooted Dredd five years ago in 3D – a movie that fell short of expectations at the box office but surged instantly to cult classic status when movie goers who didn’t support it at the time realized just how much they screwed up comparing it to Danny Cannon’s loud and bombastic 1995 predecessor. Provided similar folly doesn’t befall Beyond Skyline, I’d say we’re due for a fantastic threequel we all deserve.