More middle-of the-road than out of this world.
Superficially, Liam O’Donnell’s Beyond Skyline – a sequel to the financially successful but critically drubbed 2010 flick Skyline – contains everything a low-budget B movie ought to. Among its features are the destruction of Los Angeles, invading alien spacecraft, mammoth alien creatures with slithery human-grabbing tendrils, a machine specifically designed to suck out human brains (to then implant said brains in alien robot soldiers), laser guns, hypno-rays, an honest-to-goodness kaiju fight, and a healthy helping of human-on-human fight choreography from masters Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhain (both from The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2). If one were to judge the film solely on its gloriously adolescent mayhem tally, Beyond Skyline would be marked down as a minor classic.
What it lacks, sadly, is a degree of directorial verve; the film’s energy stays at a low ebb for extended periods, and the plot, for as trim as it is, could have been trimmer. It might have also benefited from and a hipper soundtrack, although this is a minor complaint that can only be leveled by those who remember the soundtrack boom of the 1990s. Had it tightened up, Beyond Skyline would be a near-perfect Saturday matinee.
Beyond Skyline opens in Los Angeles as a grizzled cop stereotype (Frank Grillo) is seen bailing his son out of jail – thereby barely providing the audience with the base requirements for character development – only to be immediately swept up in a surfeit of space alien chaos. Hypno-rays appear out of the sky, building are collapsed, and human begins are sucked into an alien mothership by the truckload.
Those that avoid the lasers and destruction are scooped up bodily by 12-foot armored tentacle creatures for transfer to the mothership’s medical bay where our hero and a set of accumulated supporting players (among them Bojana Novakovic and Antonio Fargas) find themselves fighting off alien probes, and doing battle with human brain-powered alien robots.
Many of the alien creatures in Beyond Skyline were created via practical effects by the SFX house hy*drau”lx (from most of the superhero films you’ve seen), and the alien robot soldiers – as is revealed in a mid-credits blooper reel (!) – are played by outsize actors in elaborately designed suits. For however good CGI technology may be in late 2017 (seriously, did you see Valerian?), there is still a great deal of texture and visual panache that can only be achieved through the use of practical effects.
In having actual aliens on set with the actors and martial artists, the filmmakers are freer to shoot more impressive human choreography and blocking, giving action scenes a better sense of scale and realism. Beyond Skyline is certainly no apex of modern practical effects, but its visuals are all the more dynamic for the practice.
Beyond Skyline is, of course, far from perfect. Its characters are clichéd at best, the overall tone is a mite shopworn, and any of its attempts to drum up real human emotion are pretty flimsy. What’s more, not much explanation is given for who the aliens are or what they’re doing on Earth. They invade because, well, a monster movie needs monsters. And while the alien action and fight scenarios never transcend the realm of healthy middle-of-the-road matinee fun, there is certainly virtue to be found in a film that does middle-of-the-road as well as this one.