While the first Skyline movie, released back in 2010, made a decent profit at the box office (almost $80 million from a $10 million-ish budget), the majority of the reviews dished out to the sci-fi yarn were not exactly kind. With 15% on RT and a current 4.4% from users on IMDb, the film has often received widespread derision from both critics and general audiences alike.
Even in the microcosm of Den Of Geek, it has its fans and its…not fans. One reviewer at Den of Geek UK was only just recently championing the film, comparing it favorably to another sci-fi flick released around the same time, but another is historically on the other, more disappointed side, giving it two stars in their review and later publishing a “what went wrong?” piece that is still very much worth a read. In the interest of full disclosure, I was pretty much in the Not A Fan camp, despite acknowledging that the film’s special effects stood out as genuinely impressive.
But regardless of anyone’s opinion on the matter, the first film made enough money to (eventually) justify pushing a follow-up story in front of cameras, and with this outing those visual wizards The Strause Brothers have apparently chosen to adopt more of a production role instead, concentrating on their Hydraulx in-house effects and handing over the sequel reins to first time writer-director Liam O’Donnell.
It’s a considerate move that shows stepping aside somewhat and putting your faith in someone else can absolutely be the right choice, because – and on some level, I still can’t believe I’m saying this – 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.
Admittedly, the first 20 minutes or so of the film aren’t particularly encouraging. We meet Mark (Frank Grillo, perhaps best known at this point for his turn as Crossbones in the MCU and as the star of the Purge sequels) a tough-as-nails detective who is still coping with some serious grief over the loss of his wife, and we’re also introduced to his incredibly, spectacularly irritating son Trent (Jonny Weston), who is turning into quite the pain in his father’s ass as he too deals with his mother’s death, getting into fights and rebelling against…well, whatever’s in his path at the time. Both of them seem to have a few anger issues, to be fair.
The initial dialogue between the pair is a bit of a cringe, but luckily there’s not much of it to sit through before we pivot to the whole alien invasion set-up from the first film. Beyond Skyline takes place in a concurrent timeline, so we get to witness that familiar and entirely unfriendly alien race once again descend upon the Earth to scoop up lots of cool human brains for their collection, but there’s no farting around in a penthouse for what seems like aeons for these two – we’re quickly rushed out of the introductory phase and into some full-blown alien-on-human brutality, and that’s where the film kicks into high gear.
It doesn’t really slow down for rest of its running time, and even when it does for a few brief minutes, it’s to twist the story in an unexpected way. You probably don’t need to have seen the first movie to understand what’s happening in the plot of this one, but the narrative does include a connection to it (with the help of some barely-noticeable recasting).
Lovely and well-meaning characters we meet in the first act are horrifyingly despatched one by one until Mark is on a one-man mission to survive a constant stream of extra-terrestrial savagery, but instead ends up with quite the badass gang. Indonesian martial artists Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from Gareth Evans’ The Raid are both on board to heighten the action with their own brand of silat-flavoured violence, and beating back the invading force once and for all becomes a rather thrilling team effort to behold.
Truly, it’s hats off to O’Donnell here. He displays a kind of confidence behind the camera rarely seen in a first-time director, and the editing is superb, harmoniously creating the type of action that we just don’t have enough of these days – easy to follow with the naked eye, but still bursting with frenetic energy.
The effects are also inevitably fantastic. Much like in Skyline, they’re not just exceptional “for the budget”, but right up there with projects granted 20 times the budget, which you’d expect in a passion project from Hydraulx. This time, though, they aren’t the best thing about the film, but just another integral piece of the action puzzle.
Overall, then, it’s quite the colossal shame that Beyond Skyline won’t be blessed with the widespread release and promotional push that its predecessor received – it’s bloody good fun.