While it’s true I deeply adore science-fiction in any form, even I have my limits. And watching the sequel to 2010’s Skyline wouldn’t just be stepping over those limits, as much as it would be taking a gold medal winning long jump over them.
To be fair, I haven’t seen the original Skyline. But considering it was from the guys that directed Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem; a film that, 10 years later, still acts as my measuring stick for bad movies, I didn’t feel like there was any pressing reason to see it.
And so I started to read Kirsten Howard’s review for Den of Geek, expecting Beyond Skyline to receive a score in the 1-2 star category. The first couple of paragraphs did nothing to assuage this assumption.
And then she wrote the following:
Beyond Skyline isn’t just one of the best genre films of 2017, it’s one of the best and most ambitious sci-fi action movies I’ve seen in the last decade.
Was she high when she watched the movie? Or paid? Or both? How on earth could that line be accurate?
I found those 30 words to be so out of left field that I didn’t even read the rest of the review. Instead I snapped up a ticket to the UK premiere at Frightfest Halloween and prayed that I hadn’t just taken an unpaid evening off work for nothing!
With his wife having passed away recently, Mark (Frank Grillo), a police detective, is having a tough time connecting with his son Trent (Jonny Weston). But within minutes their father-son time is rudely interrupted by an alien invasion.
As the alien ships start scooping up humans by the thousands, Mark and Trent team up with train driver, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic); fellow police officers, Sandra and Garcia (Betty Gabriel & Jacob Vargas); and local hobo, Sarge (Antonio Fargas). Together they must try to avoid the aliens roaming the city streets and escape with their lives.
See that synopsis above that (I hope) you just read? All of that takes place in the first 20 or so minutes. To say that this film moves at a speed resembling Usain Bolt on cocaine would be an utter understatement.
God knows where first-time director Liam O’Donnell (who was also the film’s sole writer) honed his craft; as the way the numerous action scenes are shot, it seems as if they’ve been done with decades of experience behind them. From the bowels of the city subway to the vast expanses of the Indonesian jungles, O’Donnell knows exactly how to use each location to his advantage.
He also doesn’t make the same mistake that his compatriots make in films of similar ilk and force in unnecessary human conflict. Far too many writers and directors often feel that a conflict with aliens isn’t enough, and thus write in some kind of bulls**t nonsense to make characters more “well-rounded.” O’Donnell instead keeps everyone on the same side, realising a team that (mostly) works together is far more likeable to audiences than one that doesn’t.
And that’s just one of the cliches he avoids over the action-packed 100 minutes. Every so often you start to feel that the story might be headed in a predicable direction, and then BAM! It steers onto a completely different course. Beyond Skyline doesn’t just throw cliches out the window, but rather shoves them into a Heavy Gustav cannon and fires it into outer space.
It also helps that there’s an exceptionally strong cast. Lead by Frank Grillo (of Captain America and The Purge fame), he’s reminiscent of the one-man army you see in the Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies of yore. And as soon as you throw in Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, the two stars of Gareth Evans’ The Raid, then you’ve got badass bloody fight scenes that are turned up to eleven.
With the acting, direction and writing all at top notch, you might expect the film’s downside to be in its visual effects. Especially considering the budget was only $20 million. And yet again that assumption is wrong as; from the spaceships, to the alien foot soldiers, and to the Pacific Rim-esque explosion of fighting, everything feels like it could be equally at home in a $100 million budgeted movie.
Don’t be mistaken, if you’re looking for a thoughtful sci-fi film on the level of Arrival or Ex Machina, then Beyond Skyline is not going to be in your wheelhouse. Indeed the lack of explanation for certain aspects of the film might be its biggest flaw, but one that is still easily overlooked.
Technically I can’t say if Beyond Skyline can be compared to Empire Strikes Back, mainly because I haven’t seen the original Skyline. Regardless though, I have come to accept that Kirsten Howard was correct. With balls-out action and breakneck storytelling, Beyond Skyline is indeed one of the best genre films of 2017 and more than matches most action sci-fi films over the past 10 years.