I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Beyond Skyline

SKYLINE is an alien invasion movie that I haven’t seen and never heard anything good about, but now there’s a sequel on VOD called BEYOND SKYLINE, and it has Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from THE RAID in supporting roles. The fact of the matter is if they put those two in a movie then there’s a high chance I’m gonna watch it. I mean if it gets to the point where they’re doing non-fighting cameos in Sandra Bullock relationship dramas or wacky ironic “grindhouse” movies with Danny Trejo and Sid Haig then my dedication will be tested. But for now it’s a pretty effective hook.

A better reason to watch it is the actual lead, Frank Grillo. Chances are you either already love him or are unfamiliar with his recent ascension to torch-bearer of a certain masculine ideal. He caught my eye in THE GREY and WARRIOR, and he was the main villain in the Chinese smash WOLF WARRIOR 2, but generally when he gets into big movies it’s like secondary villain in CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 and 3 or “Squadron Commanding Officer” in ZERO DARK THIRTY. You gotta go a little lowbrow like THE PURGE: ANARCHY to see him as full-on leading man.

Grillo’s rugged charisma anchors this messy, ambitious low budget special effects showcase. He plays an LAPD detective who, you will be in no way surprised to hear, is currently suspended because he’s been drinking so much since the death of his wife. When his partner Garcia (Jacob Vargas, THE PRINCIPAL) tells him “You look worse than I imagined” it’s kinda funny because Garcia is a bit of a slob but Mark is chiseled and well-groomed. (At least it’s not the standard “You look like shit.”)

Mark has to come to the station to pick up his son Trent (Jonny Weston, JOHN DIES AT THE END) who is not a drinker and prefers to express his inner turmoil in the medium of other people’s faces (he broke some guy’s jaw). While Mark is lecturing Trent about his life choices, the young man reveals that he didn’t technically beat the guy up, he just punched him one time, but it was a really good punch. Mark can’t help but let out a proud “Nice,” and Grillo’s delivery makes me forgive all the cliches leading up to that moment.

So, messed up father and son are right in the middle of bonding on the subway when what should happen but a fucking alien invasion, or “skyline” as it’s called in this universe (that is speculation, as I mentioned I have not seen part 1). But they’re underground so they assume it’s just a power outage or something when the train breaks down. Mark flashes his badge (no need for anybody to know he’s suspended) and becomes de facto leader of the passengers walking to safety.

It’s a Spielberg’s-WAR-OF-THE-WORLDS-style ground-eye-view of the invasion, but these are people who witness all kinds of crazy business. Before long they’re watching gigantic motherships hover above the city, vagina monsters trying to eat them, towering Cthulus attacking, mechanical tentacles ripping out brains, aliens inside aliens like Russian nesting dolls, all types of shit.

SKYLINE was directed by the FX-artist brothers Greg and Colin Strause. I imagine it was an attempt to have more control than on their also-panned directorial debut ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM, as well as to showcase the talents of their FX company Hydraulx. The first film’s screenwriter Liam O’Donnell (also an FX guy) graduates to director here, with the Brothers Strause as producers and Hydraulx continuing to show off both digital imagery and sophisticated rubber suit type shit.

I seem to remember that people were disappointed in the first one because it was mostly confined to one apartment building (apartment?). If that’s accurate, this has a much larger scale to it. The reported budget is $20 million dollars, which is alot of money to you or I, but it’s almost $200 million less than the last TRANSFORMERS movie. Nevertheless they have quite a few locations and different types of aliens and ships and what not. I wish there were more variations in color, and the design style could be more distinct from similar movies (the hyper-detailed TRANSFORMERS and BATTLESHIP look), but the effects are very impressive for a smaller movie. The green screening mostly works and the lead alien is a guy in a stilted suit that blends well with the digital ones. There’s enough going on here to imply a whole mythology, although I didn’t quite follow all the non-verbal business. Mark is somehow able to figure out by watching them that there’s “only one real alien, the rest are slaves.”

Trent keeps looking into the light and getting a glowy-eyed, black-veined type of zombification that Mark has to keep snapping him out of, which reflects his parenting style well (wait until he gets in trouble, then come bail him out). But when the kid actually gets snatched into the slimy bowels of a ship, Mark lets himself be taken too. (Which is weird because the actor playing his son was in TAKEN 3). This is like a sci-fi version of George C. Scott submerging himself in the pornographer underground to find his missing daughter in HARDCORE. He’ll go anywhere to save his son, even if he has to fall and bounce off stuff and hang from the bottom of a space ship with his leg impaled on a spike.

Things get interesting when Mark basically waves down an alien and convinces it to help him out. See, Mark helps a pregnant woman (Samantha Jean, apparently a recast of a part 1 character) on the ship deliver a baby, and he figures out that the brain of the father is implanted in the alien, so he promises to get the baby safely off the ship if the alien helps him find his son. Long story. No – actually, not a long story, that is pretty much the whole story right there. So anyway he’s walking around with this tall four-glowing-eyed alien, carrying a baby HARD BOILED style, and trying to understand what the alien wants him to do, such as stick his hand in a slimy hole and get a new morphing knife attachment for his arm.

Just when the story is starting to seem a little too random for me to make any sense out of, Grillo has one of those great acting moments that elevates any B-movie (maybe B+/A- in this case?). One of the passengers that ends up on the ship with him is a blind homeless veteran called Sarge (Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas, aka Doodlebug Simkins from CLEOPATRA JONES). After hanging upside down from a vine and a bunch of other torment, Sarge is feeling karmically punished and asks, “What if we deserve this? Shit, I more than earned it.”

Mark doesn’t answer, but you see how pained he is thinking about the things he’s done that might support that theory.

Maybe him saving a baby (rapidly growing into a toddler due to alien DNA, by the way) is supposed to redeem him for his parenting failures, but it seems to me he’s doing the exact same shit again. He does not consider personal hands-on protection of the baby to be part of his mandate. At one point he just hides her in some alien webs while he goes to fight! Possibly an homage to DOUBLE TEAM. And then he hands her off to the female lead Audrey (Bojana Novakovic, DRAG ME TO HELL) to take care of. I bet this is the same way he raised Trent (who now has his brain in an alien body, for whatever that’s worth).

Anyway the ship crashes in Laos, where they meet Sua (Uwais) and Kanya (Pamelyn Chee), local outlaws who hide in ancient temples fighting both the aliens and the rampaging local militia. Ruhian plays a militia asshole who they lock in a cell for a while but eventually set free to help them fight the aliens. He doesn’t get as much to do as Uwais (who does pretty well with English dialogue and even says “Oh fuck!”) but at least it’s a movie that presents you with the question “Wouldn’t it be fucked up if you woke up outside and Yayan Ruhian, wearing a beret, had a gun pointed at your head?”

The climax is so much smaller than all the shit that happened at the beginning, but way more exciting for my tastes. We get to see all the heroes doing badass poses and then having knife fights with aliens and at one point an alien does a spin kick. The fighting is certainly not up to the standard of Uwais and Ruhian’s Indonesian movies, but I mean… it’s those guys stabbing aliens, and they did the choreography. It’s something to see.

BEYOND SKYLINE is kinda overwhelming and in your face; it kind of whelms you in the face. It’s not the type of precisely constructed storytelling I prefer, but it’s jam-packed with cool stuff, and any time it starts to get repetitive it’s about to move on to something very different. With Grillo’s performance at the heart of it, and a little bit of emotion, plus a side dish of THE RAID guys, I found it to be a very worthwhile V.O.D. experience.

Full disclosure/disclosure-brag: Director Liam O’Donnell was photographed wearing my Viva Val Verde t-shirt design while directing Uwais and Grillo in Indonesia. I tried not to let that influence my opinion of the movie, but you can be the judge.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 at 10:10 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Beyond Skyline”

  1. dude, that is AWESOME about the shirt! i wonder if James Cameron owns any Jesus Is My Hometree stuff…

  2. I might be the only person who actually liked the first one. It was nothing special, but it showed some ingenuity, got right to it, and actually let you get a good look at all the alien weirdness. Bear in mind that I had recently watched BATTLESHIP L.A. OR WHATEVER so my standards for this kind of thing were at an all-time historical low. Either way, the addition of Grillo and the RAID boys can only improve any franchise, so I’m pretty psyched for this.

  3. I fucking loved the hell out of everything about this movie. Man, 2017 ended up being a heck of a year for VOD and DTV. Plus the director promises the third one will have aliens fighting other aliens with martial arts so obviously I am 100% on board.

  4. I thought the first one was terrible, but when I heard they were doing a sequel with Grillo and the Raid boys, I was like, welp, sign me up, guess I’m watching another Skyline movie!

  5. I kinda liked part 1 too. More specific: I didn’t hate it, was entertained for much of the runtime and was impressed by its expensive look. Coincidentally part 2 is already out on home video over here too (I guess they did lots of international release deals for extra cash?), so I might even check it out, before it hits pay TV.

  6. Also let’s be honest: We all would watch at least ONE Sandra Bullock relationship drama with Iko Uwais in a non-fighting role, just out of curiosity.

  7. The first one was indeed mostly confined to an apartment building (I believe I read it was one of the Strause brothers’ own apartment). However, they worked it really well into the story. In classic end-of-world-scenario fashion (commonly seen in zombie movies, alien invasion movies, etc.), the main characters hatch a plan to get to a boat/plane and escape to somewhere remote (island/wilderness, etc.). In most movies, the daring plan will make up a good chunk of the second or third act.

    In Skyline, they step one foot out the building, get attacked, say “eff this noise!” and run back inside. Found it put a nice humorous spin on the classic trope, possibly even made it more realistic as none of the characters are professional badasses, and helped keep the budget down organically all at the same time.

  8. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 27th, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    This one was super enjoyable. Loved all the random goofy shit like sticking your arm in a thing to get an alien weapon upgrade, the colors of the aliens eyes changing etc. Plus that stuff at the end with all three of our heroes knife fighting aliens together really did get my blood pumping. It’s kind of like a minor Avengers moment with three of these badasses who we’ve liked for years coming together to fight evil (even though we’ve seen two of them on screen together many times before already). Can you imagine a film like this but then you also get Scott Adkins in the shot kicking ass while the camera circles, and there’s MJW, Van Damme, Lundgren, Zaror etc. Pretty much what they should’ve had in any of the Expendables films that came out after 2012.

  9. This is going to blow your mind. I do not like watching Scott Adkins movies. Unless he is Boyka.

  10. Also I cannot recommend Jean Claude Van Johnson enough. So great.

  11. I actually got to see this one in a real theater, with a scattered crowd of middle-aged couples who I suspect just show up to cheap Tuesday night shows and see whatever happens to be screening, and DEFINITELY did not know what they were getting into.

    Not that you could blame someone. There’s no way to prepare for how fucking weird BEYOND SKYLINE is. It’s like three or four different vaguely related sequels stuck together (and boldly assumes without question that you’ve seen SKYLINE 1 and clearly remember the characters and how they ended up), and tonally it’s all over the place, but man, you can’t fault its moxie. You’ve gotta appreciate a movie this dedicated to entertaining you, even if its tormented structure keeps it from building momentum like it should. It’s got giant robot Cthulus and casual brain removal and arms ripped off and also it’s about US Imperialism and there’s a wacky heroine addict and they smash up an ancient Indonesian temple (which is supposed to be in Laos but was used as a base in the Vietnam war?) like Roland Emmerich blowing up the White House.

    I do wish it had a slightly more cheerful tone. I wouldn’t want this to be jokey, but it’s a little dour for something so ostentatiously nutty. Strangely, he out-takes at the end seem to take for granted that we’re not taking this too seriously, which I’m not sure is supported by the rest of the film. If there’s any intentional strain of winking good cheer in the actual story, I didn’t detect it; it really seems to be taking its insane drama not just seriously but positively solemnly. That makes the whole thing a little less fun than it by all rights ought to be, and probably means there’s no way to technically classify it as a good movie. But it is certainly an essential movie for anyone who is a fan of cool things.

    (Also: Uwais does splendidly with the English dialogue, and gets to show some solid dramatic chops. If any American action producer had any doubt that he deserves a lucrative career of starring in hundreds of disappointing English/Asian co-production cheapie DTV action flicks, this should handily put those doubts to rest.)

  12. “They smash up an ancient Indonesian temple (which is supposed to be in Laos but was used as a base in the Vietnam war?)”

    Fighting during the Vietnam War also took place in Laos and Cambodia, with the U.S. bombing Laos as early as 1964. Laos was one of the nations swept up in the Domino Effect, the thinking being that if any one of them went commie, the rest of Southeast Asia would as well. (Laos remains socialist to this day, making it an ideal location for an apparent critique of U.S. imperialism.) For cinematical type representations of U.S. involvement in Laos, I believe some of the CIA’s backdoor ops in the country were depicted in AIR AMERICA, and in LETHAL WEAPON, Riggs tells Murtaugh “When I was 19, I did a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out.” So at the very least we know this alien invasion kung fu sequel has seen some Mel Gibson movies.

  13. Mr M — I know that, but it still seems a weirdly convoluted explanation. Why not just set the thing in Vietnam, especially if you’re planning on using an Indonesian location either way?

  14. If they insist on making a Boba Fett movie, I would like Frank Grillo to play him. Or Jon Bernthal.

  15. This was insanely entertaining. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. I knew I loved it the second the baby flashes its red eyes. It’s the Fast Five of the Skyline saga. Here’s something I never thought I would write: I’m now looking forward to Skyline 3. What a strange time to be alive.

  16. I kinda liked part 1 too. More specific: I didn’t hate it, was entertained for much of the runtime and was impressed by its expensive look. Coincidentally part 2 is already out on home video over here too.

  17. The first film was sunk by its awkward gay panic. It has aged like warm milk because the heroes keep calling people “fags” and the like. However, it’s also hampered by the studio’s decision to excise an abortion subplot that robs the film of its thematic core.

    I saw this one and loved the Gonzo ambition, even if it’s reach outdistanced it’s grasp by several miles. I’ll definitely watch part 3 if they ever make it.

  18. For those who liked the slow driving scenes in DRIVE, I recommend WHEELMAN with Frank Grillo. It’s a nice little thriller.

  19. Wow lensflares, is this a JJ Abrams movie?

  20. What about lens flares?

  21. I enjoyed the first Skyline for what it was. This one was fun at times but was mostly a giant dumb mess. It did get awesome at the end but I think it says a lot that my favourite part of the movie was by far the outtakes during the credits.

  22. This movie seems like an 8 year old wrote it while banging action figures together, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s crazy and wild and all over the place, mixing up *SPOILERS* alien invasion, martial arts, gunplay, kaiju, mech suits, body horror, drug smuggling, magic blood, spaceship battles, and who knows what else into a head-scratching parfait that’s kinda exhausting but also undeniably fun. It has Antonio Fargas in a surprisingly emotional role and the stoic guy who played KGBeast in BvS playing a wacky stoner. This movie has everything.

    This is easily the most expensive-looking DTV movie in history, with certain shots looking even better than similar ones in any big-budget theatrical movie. Then again there’s shots that are really cheap-looking and the entire LA sequence seems blurrily over-lit, like you’re trying to watch a dark scene by jacking up the contrast or brightness on your TV too high. (Maybe the Brothers Strause took those “nobody could see what the hell was happening in AvP:R” criticisms and over-corrected?)

    Note: We all know Frank Grillo is a national treasure, but can we also agree that he’s the small-scale heir to Dwayne Johnson’s title of Franchise Viagra? Where Johnson’s addition improved the Mummy, Get Shorty, Fast and The Furious, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Jumanji franchises, Grillo has popped up in part 2 of Captain America, The Purge, Wolf Warrior, and now Skyline, and he’s a huge reason why at least a couple of them are better than their predecessors. Whereas the first one had a huge story from the tiny viewpoint of characters trapped in one location (like The Purge!), this one not only improves by opening up the scale, it also adds more likable characters played by interesting actors. Grillo is probably one of the only actors who can believably stalemate with Iko Uwais in a fight and not make it seem like an actor’s ego thing, but an actual “he’s just that tough” thing. He’s one of our best leading men and I hope he’s in Skyline 3.

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