2010’s Skyline was a forgettable dud, with a visual-effects-laden trailer masking the cheap and overly-simplistic film underneath the surface (I remember being foolishly optimistic about the film based on the trailer). Instead of letting the brand vanish into the ether, producer/screenwriter Liam O’Donnell revived the franchise with 2017’s Beyond Skyline. Thriving as a dopey, yet wildly entertaining B-movie corn fest, O’Donnell pulled off a rare feat by correcting the first film’s major misgivings. Now back in the writer/director role with Skylines, O’Donnell’s sincere dedication to his world can only take the formulaic material so far.
Following the events of Beyond, Skyline follows a broken planet trying to pick up the pieces from the alien invasion. When a virus threatens to turn the now earth-dwelling friendly alien hybrids against humans, Captain Rose Corley (Lindsey Morgan) must lead a team of elite mercenaries on a mission to the alien world in order to save what’s left of humanity.
Similar to its surprise predecessor, much of Skylines’ strengths can be attributed to Liam O’Donnell’s makeshift technical abilities. I have ample respect for the ways O’Donnell operates within the low-budget genre framework. Instead of letting budgetary restrictions compromise his vision, he implements a clever mixture of practical and CGI effects to create his own lived-in landscape.
The action setpieces pack a blockbuster punch through O’Donnell’s steady framing, while his globe-trotting narrative conveys an immersive sense of scale for audiences to indulge in. Whereas Beyond Skyline focused on throwing gonzo energy at the screen, Skylines is O’Donnell’s attempt to make this franchise into its own entity. The script pays ample attention to lore building, turning these formerly cliched creatures into their own unique presence.
As much adoration I can pay towards O’Donnell, his latest film ultimately did not mesh for me. I respect the writer/director’s decision to evolve the franchise rather than playing to what previously worked in Beyond, but this film loses some of that manic charm in the process. Without wildcard moments like Iko Uwais martial arts fighting aliens, Skylines bears a closer resemblance to your typical VOD genre vehicle. It doesn’t help that O’Donnell’s screenplay largely borrows from superior contemporaries, with the Alien meets District 9 premise lacking its own distinct voice (despite the premise’s surprising relevance, there’s little substance to be found).
Skylines lingering sense of familiarity is only made worse by the subpar cast. Lindsey Morgan is capable again as Rose, but the supporting cast does little to elevate their gruff stereotypical roles (the soldiers are basically your generic platoon troops without an ounce of charisma). Frank Grillo and Johnny Weston are sorely missed here, as there are few actors who can extract much personality from their by-the-numbers roles.
While the swift experience is entirely palatable, Skylines struggles to find its own presence amongst a crowded subgenre. That being said, this is still a night-and-day improvement over the 2010 original, and I am happy to support whatever Liam O’Donnell does next with his talents.