Movie Review

Movie Review – Skylines

Principal Cast : Lindsey Morgan, Jonathan Howard, Daniel Bernhardt, Rhona Mitra, James Cosmo, Alexander Siddig, Yayan Ruhian, Ieva Andrejevaite, Samantha Jean, Jeremy Fitzgerald.
Synopsis: When a virus threatens to turn the now earth-dwelling friendly alien hybrids against humans, Captain Rose Corley must lead a team of elite mercenaries on a mission to the alien world in order to save what’s left of humanity.

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What goes up, must come down, I guess. The third (and reputedly final) instalment of the Skyline franchise sees returning sequel director Liam O’Donnell follow up the low-rent sci-fi opus with a bang, taking us off-world and onto another as the latest adventure does what Independence Day: Resurgence only threatened to do: take the fight to the alien homeworld. Sadly, after a promising debut with Beyond Skyline, O’Donnell’s second sequel is an absolute mess of ideas and storytelling, an indecipherable plot and nightmarish visual palette failing to register an iota of excitement in this frustrating, inept affair.

Following on immediately from events in Beyond Skyline, Rose (Lindsay Morgan, reprising her brief role at the end of the previous film into full-blown lead here) is forced to sacrifice much of the resistance in their fight against the alien mothership; now on the run, the alien-human hybrids from the invading ships – known as “pilots” – have more or less integrated into society (such as it is) although now are suffering a bizarre regression back into their primal, violent selves. Doctor Mal (Rhona Mitra) is attempting to reverse the problem, with the help of weary soldier Grant (James Cosmo), but with little success. Meanwhile, Rose finds herself aboard a hail-Mary plan to counter the alien virus, led by General Radford (Alexander Siddig), who plan to travel via an alien craft to their homeworld, Cobalt 1 (because it’s blue, y’all) and salvage some kind of power drive that holds the fate of the hybrid population in its… er, hands. It is Rose’s hybrid nature that makes her specifically purposeful for this mission, much to the chagrin of her fellow cosmonauts, including Leon (Jonathan Howard) and Owens (Daniel Bernhardt).

I, along with most others, was as surprised as any that Beyond Skyline turned out to be as good as it was: after all, the original Skyline was an atrocious shitstorm of stupidity, which meant not only would a sequel be merely a fantasy but that the franchise had sunk before it even got off the ground. Bless him, Liam O’Donnell managed to carve a level of excitement and decent filmmaking from his above-average budget for Beyond Skyline and, alongside Frank Grillo’s square-jawed acting and Iko Uwais’ solid action chops, turned this D-level property into something worth following. His sophomore effort is far less excellent, although in his defence you can absolutely see him going for broke with the astonishingly brazen plot mechanics and leaps in logic.

Mixing a little bit of James Cameron’s Aliens, the aforementioned Independence Day: Resurgence, a smattering of District 9 and a shitload of David Twohy’s Pitch Black, Skylines (also known as Skyline 3 or even Skylin3s) is a decent action film looking for better material. It’s less obnoxiously shit like the original Skyline was, but altogether disappointing in every respect for fumbling the ball so badly. O’Donnell, who is credited with the screenplay, endeavours to expand the mythology established in the previous two films and misses the mark hard, although you have to give him props for trying. No doubt the effects budget swallowed up a lot of resources for making this film, and for sheer cosmic spectacle there’s a lot in Skylines to enjoy despite the high-end PC-game feel to it all, but at the end of the day a film’s quality hinges primarily on two key aspects: character and story. Neither of those aspects work well in this movie.

The character of Rose, glimpsed briefly at the end of Beyond Skyline, features as the film’s primary focus but the development of her as an outsider, a loner-slash-rebel type isn’t done well enough to make us care for her plight, and the sci-fi psychobabble attempting to explain the plot to us never really engages with the empathy her character is seeking. Lindsay Morgan is a solid actress and shoulders the part as best she can – even if the role has the genetic imprint of a James Cameron strong female archetype a la Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, or even Ellen Ripley – but the garbled plotting and nonsensical, indecipherable storyline make following this film a confusing and frankly migraine-inducing chore. Turning Rose into the central character should be applauded, sure, I just wish the execution of her arc was able to be understood.

A lot of Skylines is built on visual effects. The majority of the film takes place in space or on the alien homeworld, with its eye-rolling moniker Cobalt 1. Again referencing both James Cameron’s style and the aesthetic of the previous two films, a significant portion of the film is slathered in a garish, punishingly omnipresent blue tone that defies belief. As our intrepid team of human invaders lands on Cobalt 1 and start their mission on the planet’s surface (which, intriguingly, suffers the old Star Trek convenience of being a “Class M” planet with gravity and oxygen to spare!) things take an ugly turn as they are attacked almost constantly by deadly local inhabitants with cool-looking camouflage abilities, leading to a barrage of assault rifle fire and a forty minute sequence involving a lot of indecipherable shouting, running through crevasses, strobe lights and nigh-incomprehensible action. The massive alien creatures introduced in Beyond Skyline return as well, spouting a weird guttural language that’s translated by subtitles for us regular humans to understand – it should be noted that the film’s entire use of wit and comedy is derived from these enormous, hideous aliens swearing and carrying on like navy sailors, a truly bizarre creative choice – and their physicality is also something that works well on the screen.

The film fails to populate its character roster with anyone who isn’t a clone from superior genre films, with Rhona Mitra as the poor Earthbound doctor doing her best in trying circumstances, Alexander Siddig chewing the scenery as the supercilious General Radford (he’s the Carter Burke of this film) and poor James Cosmo utterly wasted in a nothing role dressed like a hobo. The soldier roles played by the likes of John Howard and Daniel Bernhardt have that sweaty American-ness and overpumped masculinity we all treasure in our action movies, and although commendable for their Dwayne Johnson-lite physicality, what they make up for in chiselled looks they lack in any legitimate charisma. Again, it’s less the cast and more the material they’re working with; the film plays like a shorthand, crib-note version of any interstellar alien flick of the last thirty years and although not wearing its homage fatigue on its sleeve, Skylines suffers the indignity of being nowhere near the quality of the aforementioned better movies. I think the key crucial fault with Skylines was the decision to take the story into space, which obviously sounded sexy as hell in the pitch meeting but ultimately doesn’t translate well onto the screen. With the previous two films rooted on Earth, moving the narrative into unfamiliar turf was always risky (and I applaud the risk being taken); sadly the risk hasn’t worked out well at all.

A lot of viewing time in Skylines is spent trying to work out what the hell is going on. The plot mechanics are a confusing mess of ideas, shouted at the audience as if we’re supposed to understand what people are talking about. The characters are expectedly thin in development, the visual effects continue to be the franchise’s sole saving grace, and Liam O’Donnell’s enthused direction is a step backwards from the crisp, energised work he performed on the previous film. It’s all a lot of noise and stupidity for not much payoff, and the film’s climax is a little bit underwhelming to say the least. I reiterate: O’Donnell was shooting quite literally for the stars here, and you can see where he was hoping to get to with the franchise. Sadly, be it through budget or script or studio expectations or everything all at once, Skylines is a visually spectacular empty vessel on a collision course with incoherence.

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