If I had to choose between watching cheesy sci-fi B movies or cerebral existentialist sci-fi cinema, I would, without hesitation, choose the cheese...
...That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional intellectual space outing, but those films usually don’t garner repeat viewings for me. Whereas I can pop in Doomsday (2008) or any of the Riddick films any day of the week and enjoy the hell out of it. In 2010, Colin and Greg Strause (The Brothers Strause) tried their hand at creating an alien invasion B movie with Skyline. The film was generally panned by critics but pulled in just enough money to make a profit over the meager budget of about 10 million. Skyline developed a small cult following and fans were delighted to hear of a sequel. Beyond Skyline (2017) was seen as a mild improvement over the original and heavily expanded on the mythos and lore, planting seeds for a franchise. For the third entry, Skylines, The Brothers Strause have taken the role of producers with Liam O’ Donnell writing and, just as in Beyond Skyline, helming the director’s chair. There’s no denying that this now trilogy is one big spectacle of B movie fanfare, but does it offer a proper conclusion to the series?
In this installment we follow the returning character of Rose (Lindsey Morgan) who has been tasked with the daunting mission of leading a group of mercenaries to the alien home world. Rose has an incredibly special blood type that allows her to fuse to the captured humans (now hybrid aliens) and return them to their original form. Because she has this ability, General Radford (Alexander Siddig) constructs a plan involving Rose that could save all of humanity. However, the risks are grave and there is little time to settle the ongoing conflict. Accompanying Rose is Dr. Mal, played by Doomsday star, Rhona Mitra. With the two of them and a trained group of deadly mercenaries, they stand the best chance humanity has for survival.
After watching Beyond Skyline, which had its moments, I wasn’t overly confident that Skylines would impress me much, let alone be better than the first two. As it turns out, the final chapter—or is it? – of the Skyline trilogy proves the third time really is the charm. I loved it. Beyond Skyline fed me the basics of what I crave in a sci-fi action B movie, but its uneven pace and overcomplicated story proved more exhausting than anything. Skylines tightens things up by telling a fairly straightforward story that doesn’t bog you down with a needlessly convoluted plot. Instead, it sets up the basics and then lets you enjoy the ride. In structure, it reminded me a lot of The Mummy (1999). You kind of know where it’s going, but because it’s so much fun getting there, you don’t really care that there aren’t many surprises. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously and, in a film where aliens are snatching people’s brains to put into clone alien hosts, you’re much better off having fun with it.
It would be nearly impossible to watch this film and not pick up on the several “tributes'” or “homages” to other films in the action sci-fi genre. At times, it does get a tad annoying, especially when they recreated the iconic surprise attack scene from Aliens (1986). They even have a character clutch an explosive with her fist to buy time for the other survivors just like Vasquez does. Other than that one particularly blatant homage, not many of the other borrowed tropes bothered me. This is mainly because Skylines doesn’t rip any singular film off; it takes several bits and pieces from many genre films and creates a kind of “best of” compilation. On paper this might sound really silly, but as the film flows it all kind of works because the action is solid, and the pacing feels urgent without jerking you around. It’s a little bit of Independence Day, (1996), a pinch of Starship Troopers, (1997), with a touch of District 9 (2009), mixed with many more enjoyable B movies.
The Brothers Strause were accomplished visual effects artists long before Skyline, working on big studio films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 300 (2006). They certainly know their way around that aspect of filmmaking, so it was very important to bring their A game to the Skyline films. The first two entries looked impressive and the CG rendering was on point, but because they were so CG-heavy it created a big disconnect between the characters and aliens. Fortunately, O’Donnell and the two brothers have made some much-needed changes in Skylines. Right off the bat I could tell they were using practical effects for the alien creatures’ close-up shots. They truly made an enormous difference in believability. Of course, there is still plenty of flashy CG spaceships and giant alien fights, but it’s very seamless between the two methods. It always looks better when an actor can physically interact with something, and I’m glad they spent the time and money to make that happen here because the work definitely pays off for the viewer.
Skylines is a blast, but it’s certainly not without flaws. Just like its predecessor, the characters are a major weak point of the film. I always felt the characters in the first film were the strongest, but each film introduces us to new leads. The only notable exception is Rose, who we saw as a child in Beyond Skyline who grew to be an older warrior of sorts. Luckily, Rose does carry over into Skylines to bridge the two sequels together and she is by far the best character in the film. Rhona Mitra, who I adore, is criminally underused and it would have been great to see Dr. Mal intertwine more with the core conflict and characters. For a trilogy with connective storytelling, it’s a bit odd and disappointing that there aren’t at least a few characters who reprise their roles in each film. When you have that, you get a sense of taking a journey with these people and it keeps the trilogy more cohesive.
As a fan of this particular genre, Skylines was a total joy to watch. It’s clear and focused plot, the emphasis on using more practical effects, and fast, frenetic and creative action make it the best of the three. Yes, it is a bit goofy and it’s practically dripping with cheese, but films like this bring out the kid in me. There are no announced plans for another sequel or new trilogy, but if that comes to fruition, I will be the first in line.
Skylines comes to select theaters, drive-ins, VOD and Digital from Vertical Entertainment on December 18th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth