If there’s a more unlikely sci-fi franchise than the SKYLINE saga that doesn’t star Vin Diesel, I don’t know what it is. The series began with 2010’s SKYLINE, directed by Greg and Colin Strause (ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM), a $10 million alien invasion movie showcasing VFX from the Strause’s company Hydraulx Entertainment (TERMINATOR 3, 300, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES). They were able to accomplish that partly by setting it inside Greg Strause’s condo.
I can’t currently vouch for that one, because everyone said it was bad and I skipped it (I should give it a shot). But that’s what made it surprising when, seven years later, part 1 co-writer Liam O’Donnell made his directorial debut with BEYOND SKYLINE, a weird and ambitious sci-fi/action mashup starring Frank Grillo and featuring THE RAID’s Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian – and yes, they get to do silat on some aliens. Now, three years later O’Donnell has returned with another drastically different chapter, SKYLIN3S. In a director’s statement included with the production notes he admits, “‘They made another SKYLINE movie!?’ It’s legitimately crazy, I know.”
There’s a pretty complicated mythology here, not all of which I immediately remembered from part 2, but I was able to hang on. It opens with some explanatory narration from James Cosmo (the voice of Thelonious in BABE: PIG IN THE CITY), who turns out to be a new character named Grant, whose purpose is to maintain the oral history of the human resistance against the alien invaders. He summarizes some clips of part 2 and then some stuff that has happened since, spanning 15 years.
One important thing that happened in part 2 was that Grillo’s character, LAPD detective Mark Corley, helped a pregnant woman who died giving birth to a rapidly growing baby affected by alien rays or something. Corley and friends named the baby Rose and watched her quickly grow into an adult (Lindsey Morgan, DETENTION). In part 3 here, Mark is referred to as “the famous founder of the resistance,” and has been missing, and only appears in flashback. Rose has become a disillusioned recluse since making the choice to save the world from an alien ship knowing thousands of humans would be killed in the crossfire. And now soldiers are looking for her.
They catch up to her while she’s visiting Dr. Mal (Rhona Mitra, GET CARTER) at her medical clinic for sick alien hybrids. The doctor will have a small subplot on earth after Rose is recruited by General Radford (Alexander Siddig, THE NATIVITY STORY, CLASH OF THE TITANS, 21 BRIDGES) for “the first manned mission to Cobalt 1” to, as you can imagine, steal the hyperdrive that she thought she destroyed but it got warped and they need it to stop a pandemic that’s turning all the nice red-eyed hybrids on earth into evil blue-eyed ones. (Shout out to the Ohmu in NAUSICAÄ.)
My favorite thing about this installment comes out of the craziness of the last one. We have this main character who has super powers centered around a hand that can glow with blue electricity for various purposes, and we have these 8-foot tall blue four-eyed bio-mechanical warriors (mostly portrayed by very sophisticated suits, not animation) who we learned before have human brains and are no longer controlled by the invaders. So Rose comes to the military base and some of the people she’s working with are these monsters who speak in subtitled growls, and she doesn’t bat an eye, just treats them like some dudes she knows.
For example, they give her a roommate: her brother, Trent. To be honest I forgot that this was Mark Corley’s estranged son’s brain in an alien body, and I still loved it; they bicker and insult each other and then have an emotional talk about their dad. There’s something kind of ALIEN NATION about the casual human-alien interactions, made funnier by their more extreme look and sound. I like that they’re never stiff or formal like so many movie aliens – they have human brains so they say things like “piece of cake” and “for fuck’s sake” and “we are so fucked,” and they use sarcasm.
But I genuinely felt invested in Rose and Trent’s brother-sister relationship. There’s a part where she thinks it’s a suicide mission but Trent nods to her and says (subtitled) “WE CAN DO THIS” and, you know, it’s really cool to have a bond like that with a sibling, and even cooler when it’s a human brain transplanted into a giant blue bug thing with pipes growing out of its skin.
And if you think about it Rose and Trent aren’t biologically related, and she never even knew him in his original human body, but they grew up together so they are unquestionably family. I like that.
They’re are on a team with ALIENS-esque space marines Corporal Leon (Jonathan Howard, MEGAN LEAVEY, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) and Colonel Owens. And my second favorite thing about the movie is that Owens is played by Daniel Bernhardt.
These days I always make a big deal about Bernhardt, the Swiss martial artist who starred in the BLOODSPORT sequels, TRUE VENGEANCE and G2 in the ‘90s before appearing as Agent Johnson in the MATRIX sequels and being reborn as an 87Eleven regular, clocking up villainous appearances in PARKER, JOHN WICK, LOGAN, ATOMIC BLONDE, BIRDS OF PREY and more. This is the first movie I’ve noticed seeming to treat him as someone the audience might recognize as an action icon. We see from behind that there’s this tall guy giving Rose shit and then it reveals his face and I think I had the intended reaction: Oh shit, that’s Daniel Bernhardt! He turns out to be one of the central characters, giving a genuine performance, shooting lots of aliens and yes, doing some kicks.
Of course a movie that knows to do that also includes some of the ol’ classics like the introduction to the team, including a “Just How Badass Is He?” for former Navy SEAL Owens while he does target practice, and a suiting up/showing off gimmicky weapons sequence that ends with Owens saying, “All right, lock and load Alpha Team. It’s go time.” It also has a “tech guy concerned that this wasn’t what he signed up for” character, but he’s played by stunt coordinator Cha-Lee Yoon (THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB), so he gets a big fight scene.
It’s an interesting level of indie movie – clearly having to work with much less than the studio genre movies we’re used to, but extremely impressive compared to your typical SyFy or VOD science fiction, particularly in the area of creature effects. There are some new species, including some cool ones that I think are suits weirded up with digital effects. That goes a long way to making the bughunt section (on relatively small, but at least practical sets) less repetitive than in many similar movies, and like BEYOND SKYLINE it will keep moving on to increasingly weird stuff – it’s 113 minutes, and kept me interested! I’m partial to the part where she flies around in a bio-mech that shoots tentacle grappling hooks out of its palms like Scorpion from MORTAL KOMBAT.
It’s kind of cool that part 1 was set in present day earth, part 2 went from regular earth to weird alien places, and now this one is a future where London is buried in dead space ships and the people live in a tent city, but the military has spaceships that can travel through wormholes. As far away as that may seem, it’s close enough that at least one character remembers the movie BIG. The storytelling is pretty episodic, and at this point the backstory and the rules are kind of hard to keep track of, at least if you’re dense like me and constantly having to remind yourself that glowing red eyes mean good, not evil. I bring this up not to complain but to say that this unwieldiness is part of what I have enjoyed about these movies. It’s like it’s daring you to keep up.
There’s a small part in the movie that would be an amazing cameo if it were a surprise, but I think it has been promoted enough that it will be disappointing to some people who expect more. So here is your warning that (CASTING SPOILER?) Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian returns as a different character (I think?) but he’s only in a couple little parts. He does fight an alien, though, and has huge monster hands like a HELLBOY character, and if that guy doesn’t get to be the co-lead in SKYLINE UNBOUND then what are we even doing here?
(Wikipedia says this is the final film in the trilogy, but it certainly seems to set up another one at the end.)
If you enjoyed BEYOND SKYLINE, this one is lesser in that it’s less martial arts oriented and a little less insane, but better in that it’s bigger, more polished and a little more coherent (but still with some martial arts and some insanity). I hope they keep going until a few movies past the point where it’s literally impossible to explain the concept to someone who hasn’t seen the other ones.
Vertical Entertainment will release SKYLINES in select Theaters, Drive-ins, on Demand and Digital December 18th.