Sunday, February 25, 2018

Beyond Skyline (2017)

Warning: I’ll not be able to help myself and spoil all sorts of things this time around!

Remember the eminently forgettable invasion of Los Angeles (which in this sort of film is the world, because who cares about the rest of us, right?) that took place in the decided non-classic Skyline? Well, Beyond Skyline takes place on the eve of that very same invasion, but instead of some hipster yuppies, we follow the adventures of Mark (Frank Grillo), cop on leave with a tragic past. First, he only has to get his son Trent (Jonny Weston) out of custody again, but then the invasion strikes and he needs to go all out fighting for his life and the life of his son, teaming up with subway train driver Audrey (Bojana Novakovic), homeless blind war vet Sarge (Antonio Fargas!) and other people who get killed too early for me to care to keep track of their names.

And that’s just before the really weird stuff happens, which includes misadventures on the alien ship, a team-up with the protagonist of the first Skyline who is basically an ickier Kamen Rider without the motorcycle and the henshin now, and a crash-landing in an Indonesian action flick with Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian and Pamelyn Chee. Apparently, if you really want to fight back an alien invasion, get them to Indonesia.

This is The Purge all over again: just like with that other franchise, a pedestrian, unoriginal and just a bit boring first movie is followed by a sequel that is a box of candy-coloured, internationally minded fun and Frank Grillo.

Now, obviously, Liam O’Donnell’s (who wrote the first Skyline) film won’t impress people looking for an intelligent, incisive alien invasion film, because it is the purest popcorn cinema. If you want to call a film pure that not only uses elements of most of the alien invasion flicks of the last twenty years (without any “they are among us” elements, of course, because that’d need subtlety), and lets them collide with Indonesian style action cinema – while showing the good taste to hire the right actors for that part of the film – but also shows an ever increasing influence by tokusatsu and even has a mecha battle in its finale. That’s before the film’s epilogue which promises space opera for the probably never coming sequel.

I’m not going to pretend O’Donnell creates this Frankenstein monster-like film with taste (well, neither did the good Doctor), but there’s enough panache and sheer fun with cheese, silliness and all the good stuff of cool violence in cinema on the screen to make up for much greater sins. Plus, once Beyond Skyline really gets going, it doesn’t pause for a second anymore, so that a finale – taking place in front of very picturesque Indonesian temple ruins – that features Iko Uwais hacking aliens into pieces, Yayan Ruhian fighting on even when he’s lost an arm (one supposes it was just a scratch), a tiny mass panic and a just as tiny mass battle, a bad piloted organic mecha and a good piloted mecha slugging it out, a chosen child with vague genetic powers (oh, did I not mention the “save the baby” plotline?), and Frank Grillo being nearly as awesome as Uwais, just feels like the logical consequence of what came before. Well, perhaps not logical, but you know what I mean.

Given its comparatively small budget of apparently around 15 million dollars (which as it seems – and alas – it did not pull back, at least in the US), the special effects are pretty fantastic (if you’re okay with bargain basement Giger design, and who wouldn’t be?), as is the action choreography. What really had me grinning with delight for most of the running time, though, was the sheer willingness of the thing to just go there (as well as to Indonesia for the production value and the Uwais star power) and put a lurid, enthusiastic pulp fantasy on display that by all rights should be loved by anyone who loves classic genre movie values.

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