Little did I, or anyone for that matter, know that 2010’s forgettable alien invasion film Skyline would be the launch of one of the best sci-fi franchises of recent years. How could we know? It would take seven years for co-writer/producer Liam O’Donnell to take over the reins himself with Beyond Skyline, a bonkers sci-fi/martial arts hybrid of surprising ambition and vision. Now three years later, Skylines arrives with pretty big shoes to fill, and I’m as stunned as anybody that O’Donnell has done it again.
To be fair, I don’t know whether Skylines is less crazy than its predecessor or if I was just more prepared for it this time. O’Donnell has definitely put his stamp on these movies in a way he didn’t the first time, and for this third chapter appears to have pulled from significant influences such as Aliens, Predator, and District 9. Taking place years after Beyond Skyline, the world is devastated by a pandemic (It’s like we can’t escape it!) that has infected the alien “Pilots”, who had been freed but are now reverting to their murderous, human-scavenging ways. As the virus nears London, the remaining human government tracks down Rose (Lindsey Morgan), the alien/human hybrid with the power to use and negate the alien technology. They need her to join an elite team on a mission to another world to retrieve a device powerful enough to save the world.
What has stood out most since O’Donnell took over is how unafraid he is to put bizarre shit out here, and the weirder Skylines is the more fun it is. Now all grown up, Rose has distanced herself from humanity since the disappearance of her father (Frank Grillo), hero of the last movie and a looming presence here, as well. Her screwed-up family tree also includes her Pilot brother, Trent, who comes along on the mission to protect his estranged sis.
Government conspiracies, a shady commander (played by Alexander Siddig), and questionable loyalties complicate a task made worse by the arrival of a new threat that begins to take the team apart. O’Donnell’s skills at setting up the action have improved, with the battles cleaner and easier to follow than before. The alien shootouts and heavy paranoiac vibe keep the tension at a high level, aided by the performance of Howard, a standout on The 100 who I think will become a genre mainstay going forward.
O’Donnell has managed once again to gather an impressive cast all-around. The other key subplot features Rhona Mitra as Dr. Mal, the only one capable of developing a cure to save the Pilots. The great veteran actor James Cosmo, of Braveheart fame, is aging warrior Grant, part of a last line of defense securing her the time she needs. And for those who are worried, like I was, that we wouldn’t see any of the killer combatants from Beyond Skyline, the awesome Yayan Ruhian has exactly the kind of cameo you’d want from him.
Doing a lot with a little, Skylines benefits from O’Donnell’s ability to shoot around the deficiencies. The film looks great, especially considering the heavy amount of production design that had to go into creating the Pilots, the tech, and planet Cobalt-1 where most of the action takes place. Problems crop up mostly during the Earthbound sequences, where it’s harder to hide the budgetary constraints. Not only that, but O’Donnell teases larger themes that don’t play out effectively. While sci-fi uniquely lends itself to the discussion of prejudice, it’s merely a notion here and disappointing that it couldn’t have been given more time. Considering this is mostly a point-A to point-B story, a little more flesh on the bones would’ve been huge.
Skylines continues to raise the bar, and with so much story left to be told, there are a couple of questions that need to be answered. How long can they keep this up? And when will others finally take notice? It’s true that this franchise got off to a rocky start, but quietly these are some of the top sci-fi movies around and shouldn’t be missed.