OK, let’s start with the fact that this trilogy isn’t science fiction, it’s horror. It has sf trappings, but the logic and the rules are pure horror movie. Mind you, so are many sci-fi films. Alien, anyone?
The story was conceived by a visual effects collective. The Brothers (Colin and Greg) Strause took on the first film. They’ve directed before, bringing us such winning and complex films as Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. They teamed with fellow f/x’ers Liam O’Donnell and Joshua Cordes as their writers. I’ll turn my snark off in a second, but you can get the sense that I don’t have a lot of respect for the results of these gents jumping into other creative avenues. Entertaining? Sure…and clearly they’ve got a following. But classics these aren’t. Deep and believable plots and characters do not live here. What you get is what you’d expect : lots of really nice f/x work and action…and plots twisted to meet that desire.
I watched the three movies over three consecutive nights, but have written them up separately.
Invasion films are a dime a dozen, but this one not only survived but also spawned a cult franchise. It has everything you expect, fun f/x, inscrutable and (apparently) evil aliens, a group of characters trying to survive and doing better than everyone around them, including the armed services. A relatively predictable plot, with a few nice twists, moments, and reveals.
Eric Balfour (Haven) leads the cast as the tough guy with a confused heart. While visiting his bestie in LA, Donald Faison (Emergence), the world goes to hell. We know this from the opening scene, so nothing lost there. David Zayas (Ride) is the only other actor of note. Nothing spectacular, but at least he brought in a different level than the younger cast. There is little or no chemistry between the people on screen. A shame as that needs to be there to drive the finale. Fortunately, most of that has to come from Balfour who manages to deliver just enough to have impact. Sympathy and empathy, not so much, but at least you buy into the events.
This film ends on a nasty, nasty cliff-hanger and interesting premise. We get some answers (many of which are utterly absurd) and a way forward. If I’d seen this when it was released and didn’t know I’d get to see it continue 7 years down the line, I’d have been furious. Knowing I’ve got the other two films, I’m ready to pop some more corn and see where they take it. Why? Pure curiosity…partly due to the plot, though I could also easily walk away, but mostly to understand the following the movies seem to have garnered. So on to the next film… (no, seriously, there just isn’t that much to talk about here).
Beyond Skyline (2017)
Frank Grillo (Boss Level) top lines this sequel, with the help of a very unexpected Bojana Novakovic (Instinct), not to mention Iko Uwais (Mile 22) thrown in. There is actual chemistry in this movie, and a chance to care about characters. Not deeply, but there is more connection than the first installment managed by far. And each of them appears to have some form of inner life and motivation beyond the stage directions.
Released 7 years after the original film, this sequel overlaps with the first movie and tackles it from a different perspective (and does a bit of creative recasting and time compression to do so). Liam O’Donnell took over writing and directing this round on his own. And, honestly, the seven years improved his chops. This was a much better script and the directing was fairly solid. It is an uneven bit of adventuring, with one hell of a left turn about halfway through. Even though that last half of the flick feels like a bolt-on, it still all holds together better than the first installment, and has (again) a natural sequel to come.
As it turns out, this is also the best flick of the existing films in pretty much every way.
And then all the chemistry went away….O’Donnell ran again with the ball on this one, but he lost whatever little magic he had found in the previous film. Even with Alexander Siddig (21 Bridges) and Rhona Mitra, not to mention the absurd return of Yayan Ruhian (John Wick 3: Parabellum) from the previous film, on deck to help drive it, it is about as hollow as the alien ships are big. And Siddig and Mitra are just not used in any way that respects their abilities. They’re not brilliant actors, but I’ve always enjoyed their work. However, I found myself cringing more often than not. They’re also not the leads.
The main group of characters just never come together. Daniel Bernhardt (Altered Carbon) was just a puppet. Jonathan Howard, whose relationship with the returning Lindsey Morgan (The 100) should have had a wonderful tension and heat… but Morgan certainly wasn’t up to the task and Howard didn’t have a lot to work with on paper or screen. Even the great James Cosmo, who really only has a cameo, was just thrown away with little or no purpose.
Generally, the whole movie is pretty cringey. We’re back to silly and predictable plots, though O’Donnell tried to broaden this one out across two major plot-lines. It was a bridge too far for his developing abilities. The time lost to splitting the tale forced the cutting out of vital moments of transition. And of course, there were several overlong fight scenes shimmed in as substitute. And, hey, I like me a good fight scene, but I want to have purpose and value to the plot as well. And, speaking of, of course this had an unabashed and unfulfilled way forward to a fourth film…and I’ve no doubt they’ll get to make it.
Overall, the middle film was the most fun and complete, even with its cliff-hanger structure. Perhaps O’Donnell, or whoever follows, will find the way back to a better cast and writing. This series is, at best, schlock. Fun schlock at times, but schlock and uneven nonetheless. For a rainy Saturday afternoon, it isn’t a bad choice, but I can’t see myself coming back to this, even for distraction.