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Beyond Skyline
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by Jay Seaver

"The rare time when a sequel to a bad movie makes sense."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Give "Beyond Skyline" credit; it doesn't dink around before getting to the good stuff the way that the first one did. It's still a pretty dumb movie, but it piles stuff on like crazy, and you can't go terribly far wrong combining brains being ripped out of skulls and Iko Uwais fight scenes.

The film actually opens a few hours before Skyline's alien invasion, only this time it's following suspended cop Mark Quarren (Frank Grillo), whose ex-partner Garcia (Jacob Vargas) has given him a heads-up about son Trent (Jonny Weston) being in lock-up again. They're taking the subway home when the aliens arrive, and while their group - including train conductor Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) and blind homeless vet Sarge (Antonio Fargas) try to escape, it eventually becomes necessary for Mark to stow away aboard the alien ship to rescue Trent. While he's doing that, the ship has flown to Laos, where guerrilla fighters Sua (Iko Uwais) and Kanya (Pamelyn Chee) are fighting a local warlord (Yayan Ruhian) as well as aliens.

I don't know to what extent this parallel story/sequel spanning half the globe is meant to be a direct response to audience frustration at the first one taking place almost entirely within one (admittedly roomy) penthouse apartment, but it's an audacious-enough way to shake things up at the midpoint that the audience might be a little more inclined to forgive the fact that writer/director Liam O'Donnell doesn't really do very much new here, stepping through a lot of the same plot mechanics as the first and, when those are used up, extending the story with gimmicks that viewers have seen in dozens of other sci-fi films. It's a bit more interesting than what Colin & Greg Strause did, but even if it weren't a sequel, it would feel fairly derivative.

That goes for the characters as well. The people from the first are glimpsed only briefly and are recast (though in one case you'd never be able to tell), and aren't exactly missed, and the new group is at least easier to get behind from the start. They're still a pretty generic lot, though happily played by a cast that generally doesn't stumble over their lines and handle the physical parts of the job well, probably getting a little help from the fact that there is a lot more actually on the set than is often the case in today's sci-fi action movies. Nobody in the cast particularly manages to build one of these stock characters into someone a viewer would have a vested interest in seeing in Skyline 3 - Frank Grillo is a capable enough performer, but if you've seen one Grillo tough guy, you've seen them all, and the next-most-interesting guy after that is Sua, but mostly because Iko Uwais is good at action.

That's shouldn't be dismissed, though - Beyond Skyline winds up mostly working because the folks involved know the action-adventure and special-effects stuff that someone selection this movie off a pay-per-view menu wants and deliver a fair amount of bang for the buck. Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian choreograph the action as well as they participate in it, and I suspect that it was a bit more of a challenge than usual to figure out what sort of martial arts works when one's opponent is a nine-foot tall robot that may either be CGI or a person in an occasionally fragile costume. O'Donnell and the crew do go practical whenever they can, it seems, and if Skyline was a demo reel for the Strauses' visual-effects company, Beyond is a better one - there's much less hiding things off-screen or in the dark, the designs have a nice balance between clarity and detail, the different effects techniques blend well, and while this won't challenge the best Industrial Lights & Magic can do, the film certainly looks impressive next to the other similarly-budgeted independent sci-fi action pictures. O'Donnell gives everybody space to play, and he doesn't waste much of the audience's time once things get going.

In the Q&A after the film, O'Donnell said people have been asking about a "Skyline" sequel since the first came out, which is perhaps less surprising than you might think - it was a bad movie with a strong ending, and this one makes sure to deliver more of the good material while making the weaknesses bearable. It ends with a hook for a third, and while it's still not exactly good enough that I'm eager for another on overall merit, it will likely at least be worth a look if they're still getting the most of doing the effects in-house.

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originally posted: 03/10/18 15:47:46
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  15-Dec-2017 (R)
  DVD: 16-Jan-2018

  N/A (15)
  DVD: 08-Jan-2018

  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Liam O'Donnell

Written by
  Liam O'Donnell

  Frank Grillo
  Bojana Novakovic
  Jonny Weston
  Callan Mulvey
  Iko Uwais
  Pamelyn Chee

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