Sunday, December 17, 2017

Beyond Skyline: The Sequel We Didn’t Know We Needed

Technically, the stunning Hindu temple compound Prambanan is in Indonesia, not Laos, but that is a mere detail. Wherever it is, it shelters one of the most effective remnants of human resistance after the alien invasion. Yet, they are still mostly concentrating on simple survival until an extremely ticked-off LA cop is inadvertently dropped into their midst in Liam O’Donnell’s Beyond Skyline (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.

Nobody really loved Skyline in 2010, but some observers were impressed by the visual dazzle rendered by the Hydraulx special effects house founded by the co-directors, the Strause Brothers. This time, the Strauses concentrated on VFX and producing duties, allowing O’Donnell (a co-screenwriter and co-producer of the first installment) to take over the director’s chair. It turns out, this is a much better distribution of labor, because Beyond is a gleeful helping of meathead sci-fi.

Mark Corley has been on leave from the LAPD since the death of his beloved wife Rose, but he still periodically pulls himself out of the bottle and into the station to bail-out his lashing-out “new adult” son Trent. They were headed home on the subway when the aliens started sucking all the people out of Los Angeles. Soon, they regroup with Audrey the conductor and a couple of Corley’s colleagues, but despite their best efforts, they still get whisked into the mother ship.

As viewers of the original know, abducted humans have their brains removed and inserted into robotic exo-skeletons, so they can serve as slave drones. However, the dude from Skyline ’10 fully maintained his consciousness and agency. When Corley blunders into him, he is still protecting his wife, whose pregnancy has been unnaturally accelerated by the aliens. In fact, Corley will deliver the fast-growing baby girl, pledging to protect her.

Thanks to alienified Jarrod, they bring the mother ship down right smack-dab in the center of the Golden Triangle. As the alien ship regenerates itself, Corley and Audrey forge an alliance with Sua and Kanya, sibling drug-runners turned resistance leaders. They have an extensive network of shelters underneath Prambanan. They also have a lot of guns, but the secret to mankind’s survival might very well be found in the genetically altered child’s blood.

Beyond Skyline really is the sequel we didn’t think we needed or wanted, but turned out to be exponentially better than the original. There have been plenty of sequels that were better the originals they followed, but the Skyline duology might represent the greatest increase in quality and entertainment value. It is easy to understand why from the one-sheet, which does not lie—Frank Grillo, along with Iko Uwais and Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian from The Raid lay a martial arts beat down on the aliens. Plus, Singapore TV star Pamelyn Chee gets to show off some action chops as Kanya.

Grillo was born to play damaged hardnosed characters like Corley, but he also develops some nice chemistry with Bojana Novakovic’s Audrey. He also has some nice moments with Jacob Vargas playing his former partner. Uwais and Ruhian do not have much opportunity to emote and develop character as Sua and the corrupt “Chief,” but they sure have the moves. Yet, Chee manages to make Kanya fully dimensional and tragically believable, despite all the bedlam exploding around them.

Look, Beyond Skyline is maybe not the only science fiction sequel opening this weekend, but it is guaranteed to blow away your expectations. O’Donnell also deserves credit from learning from the first film’s mistakes. No more shaky cam, so you can see steady full body shots of the fight choreography. Unlike the first film’s downbeat ending, Beyond ends on a note worthy of a John Williams fanfare. Recommended as just a lot of healthy, completely illogical fun, Beyond Skyline is now playing in New York, at the Cinema Village.