2020 is officially a banner year for hybrid sci-fi action and martial arts films between at least three distinct new film releases, one namely being Liam O’Donnell’s new sci-fi thriller, Skylin3s – aptly coined with the number three in its title.
Long-billed as a crowning achievement for O’Donnell, the Skyline franchise serves thusfar as one of the more notable bookmarks for the fandom. The sequel’s festival premiere in 2016 with Beyond Skyline had audiences reveling with praise and galvanizing, much to the benefit of the 2010 inaugural, Skyline, which bodes more as hit-or-miss with some viewers. Point in fact, it would have been a risky bet to suggest the franchise could generate interest. O’Donnell, not to be outdone by the odds, came out of nowhere five years ago and dared to prove the naysayers different, and evidently, he did.
How evident? Enter Skylin3s, third in line following directly from the second film with actress Lindsey Morgan getting full-tilt screentime in the role of Rose Corley who, after Earth’s devastating alien invasion so many years ago, now leads a resistance army comprised of both humans, as well as “Pilots” – reawakened human brains resigned to their alien bodies after recovering from their former mind-controlled selves.
Born with the biological ability to use alien technology, Rose’s “gift” has since become a point of resentment, thanks to the physical strain its placed on her rapidly-aging body which she nourishes with routine blood transfusions thanks to Dr. Mal (Rhona Mitra). The pain here, however, is less than the regret and trauma she’s forced to live with, following a cataclysmic decision she made during a definitive battle with the alien armada; The main story kicks off just five years after that fracas, and needless to say, Rose, now AWOL, holds nothing but a deep-seated air of contempt for what she is, and how her “gift” is perceived. To add, the last thing she wants is to have anything to do with the resistance – namely the soldiers looking for her at the survival camp near post-invasion London where she’s hiding.
Arrested and escorted to base to meet with General Radford (Alexander Siddig), Rose soon learns the resistance has grown increasingly concerned with a mysterious virus that threatens to relapse the Pilots back under alien control, thus ensuing mankind’s certain extinction. Compelled otherwise by what she deems as a notable cause in Radford’s cheekly-named “half-a-plan”, Rose then assembles a team of mercenaries to travel to the far reaches of space on a planet called Colbalt-1 to retrive the powered orb from the armada ship she destroyed five years earlier.
What ultimately awaits Rose and her variegated squad of soldiers and tech experts, including her adopted and Piloted brother, Trent (Jeremy Fitzgerald), is nothing short of a treacherous journey to the planet, with the ever-domineering elite merc, Owens (Daniel Bernhardt) looking over her shoulder. Coupled with this among other troubling footnotes along the way is when Rose’s powers suddenly begin tottering, just as alien beasts entrenched in the cavernous planet begin their attack. As the mission’s hopeful success grows closer, darker revelations are abound for the team, including Rose whose full potential may yet be realized, for better, or possibly worse.
Hands-down, O’Donnell strikes again with another offering in the sci-fi genre, formulating a nimble, epic space adventure that balances out its story arcs at two points, one of which being the camp where Dr. Mal and a few fellow survivors suddenly find themselves surrounded by reanimated human-killing Pilots. Fans keen on female fronted action cinema will especially take a liking to Mitra next to actress Naomi Tankel
who plays a survivor-named Kate, alongside actor James Cosmo for his own ephemeral screentime as grisled storyteller, Grant.
Skylin3s also places crucial emphasis on Rose’s turmoil, with subject matter pertaining to ‘specialness’ in a poignant conversation with fellow soldier Leon (Jonathan Howard). It stands as one one of the film’s key climacterics for Rose’s development, in addition to her own guilt and trauma with being charged to make dangerous decisions as people like Radford put her on a pedastool, nakedly touting her as a “weapon” and “gifted”, a material thing to be used. It’s a notable bookmark in the film’s characterization going into the second, more decisive half of the film.
The role of Owens is an absolute treat for anyone who’s followed Bernhardt’s career of well over fifty film and TV, and video game, credits. He’s shapened up impressively as a consistent character actor who can deliver lines, as well as pivotal action performance, just as he does in Skylin3s under O’Donnell. That he also gets to collaborate with film’s key stunt department, the overseers of Reel Deal Action, whose Can Aydin serves as second unit director with co-star Yoon Cha-lee administering as stunt coordinator, and stunt player Phong Giang as head rigger, is categorical plus.
Opportunely, it is perfect setup for both Bernhardt and Yoon who, after more than an hour of gory, explosive and epic CG battles with aliens, get to deliver one of the film’s few, more organic, high-energy cast member martial arts sequences. It’s a total sweetener, and literally, the kind of content martial arts cinema fans would sign up for, especially with the return of Yayan Ruhian reprising his role as the Chief, re-sewn and stitched back together with new parts for a rousing third-act battle sequence on Earth.
Morgan herself gets to tussle around with the stunt guys for a few rounds as well. Interestingly though, some might see it as a bit weird that someone with a burgeoning disability can still run parkour laps and throw hands with dudes twice her weight. As far as characterization goes though, you might also rationalize that Rose, in her condition, does often feels younger than in other instances, so it makes sense that she can still throw her share of punches and the occasional flip kick to the face. The editing here teeters a bit between cuts with her and her stunt double, Natalie Walsh, but it’s not crippling to the visual experience of watching and even cheering Morgan on as a novel action heroine for today’s sci-fi audiences.
The bigger picture here with Skylin3s, of course, rests primarily in Rose’s transition from an underdog and reluctant savior, to a heroine worthy of redemption as she discovers more of herself than what she ever expected. As the film progresses, her evolution coalesces just a little more with frequent flashbacks to the previous film. Hence, the recurring reappearences of actor Frank Grillo in the role of Mark – Trent’s father and adopted father to Rose – which could, optimistically, set up another chapter in the Skykine saga building on this angle if given the chance and the funding.
Skylin3s bodes significantly as an elevated genre thriller, one that aims with an ambition that easily likens to the successes of auteurs such as James Cameron with Aliens, or more suitably, Justin Lin with Universal’s Fast saga, post Tokyo Drift. The zeal is inarguably there any way you slice it, in the latest chapter topped off by a performance from Morgan who, while no stranger to the sci-fi genre having recurred in most of the CW series, The 100, is a force to be reckoned with.
It helps to know despite being billed as the final chapter, that O’Donnell is aiming to go the next step with this franchise for a hopeful fourth, which he is writing as we speak. With Skylin3s in toe after its enlivening critical review reception from its festivals circulation this year, this website is proud to toss this critique into the mounting stack as another full-throated endorsement of O’Donnell’s posterity, and management of this critically-acclaimed, and deserving space saga.
Vertical Entertainment will release SKYLINES in select Theaters, Drive-ins, on Demand and Digital December 18th.
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.