Taking The Fight To Them: Skylin3s (2020)-Reviewed

 If you're like me and you saw 2010's Skyline, you probably wrote it off. It was a low budget alien invasion flick that inexplicably made it into theaters despite looking like something on the Syfy Channel. Again, if you were like me i.e. a relatively young film snob who was still finding his way in the world. 

Fast forward to early 2020 and after years of hearing about how that once forgotten movie not only had a DTV sequel (2017's Beyond Skyline) but said sequel ruled, I finally dove in and bought the blu ray. Coming out the other side of that experience, one filled with martial arts fights between aliens and modern fight legends like Iko Uwais, the ever reliable Frank Grillo kicking ass across the country and full on Kaiju battles to top it off, I was a convert. Not just for the franchise but for its captain, Liam O'Donnell. 

See, unbeknownst to a reformed film snob like myself, Skyline made a nice chunk of change upon release despite its reviews. That was enough to allow producers the confidence to let the film's writer, O'Donnell, to take the reigns as director and thank god for that because not since John Hyams' bananas take on Universal Soldier with Day of Reckoning, has someone so excitingly stretched the definitions of what "DTV" can mean.

Picking up where Beyond left off, Skylin3s follows Rose Corley (Lindsey Morgan). For a quick recap, Rose is the alien/human hybrid adopted by Frank Grillo. She grows quickly throughout the film and becomes humanity's sole hope for survival as her biology allows her to control the alien tech freely. Her adopted brother, Trent, is now a "Pilot" for the resistance. Pilots are aliens with human brains who have successfully fought their programming after said brains were ripped from their human bodies and implanted in the alien husks. Beyond ends with a soaring promise that Rose, Trent and the Resistance will be taking the fight to the aliens, ready to make humanity's last stand. 

Perhaps, maybe the boldest thing O'Donnell does is giving us what we want five minutes into the film. How many times have you watched and alien invasion movie and wanted to see us take it to them for a change? Well, O'Donnell gives that to you! But with a small caveat: it's but a taste. When we next see Rose, she's commanding the Resistance as it meets the aliens head on in space. After taking out a few ships, she finds herself unable to take out the mother ship. She chokes. Our hero fails. Fast forwarding a few more years, Rose is on the run. She's wanted by the Resistance to answer for her mistake and because they need her help once again. A pandemic is attacking the alien Pilots, reverting them to their base state, meaning the once friendly allies are slowly turning on us. A ragtag band of heroes (Rose included), led by General Radford (Alexander Siddig) sets off to find what they think is the cure. They're humanity's last hope.

(Image Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Look, that's a lot of place setting and to be perfectly honest, not a lot of it matters once you settle in. In setting that up though, I think it's important to get across how ambitious O'Donnell is with this series. In just two films, he's created an entire universe filled with multiple, generation spanning heroes in Grillo's Mark and Morgan's Rose, and an entire mythos with a budget a fraction of what they're doing over in LucasFilm or elsewhere. It's remarkable.

Like the previous film, this is filled with fights galore, gun battles, vast alien landscapes and world building on a massive scale. Wearing his influences unabashedly on his sleeve, O'Donnell leans even harder into the impressive set pieces and exciting action. One of the best things about the world he's created is that everybody gets to fight. From Rose, to space marines Leon (Jonathan Howard) and Owens (Daniel Bernhardt) even down to the Earthbound doctor trying to cure the Pilots, Dr. Mal (Rhona Mitra). Everybody knows how to fight and the film is all the better for it. It feels like such a simple thing but by combining martial arts with full on alien sci-fi, O'Donnell has carved out a bit of a niche for himself with this franchise. These play unlike anything else out there and when you don't have the budget to work with, you have to stand apart. These do and then some.

That's not to say the film is without its glorious sci-fi. Taking place mostly on the aliens' planet and ship, Skylin3s is bursting at the seams with inventive set pieces. It's genuinely astonishing what this team pulls off with the budget they have. From mutated aliens that can camouflage themselves to the Queen herself, this thing is designed so well. Like its predecessor, the film deftly mixes CG with men in rubber suits to great effects. This isn't said lightly but it's peak genre filmmaking, the likes of which we simply don't get anymore.  

The cast is full of ringers from genre luminaries like Siddig (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Gotham) and Mitra (Doomsday, Underworld) to great character actors like James Cosmo (Trainspotting and this year's wonderful Get Duked!), O'Donnell casts the hell out of these movies. When you throw yourself into the world of DTV you begin to recognize some folks and the last two films in this franchise are like an All Star team from top to bottom. 

None of this works without Lindsey Morgan in the lead though. Like the great genre predecessors before her she possesses everything you'd want as a lead. It's become a bit rote to describe any woman in the lead of an action film as "badass" though she certainly fits the bill. It's her vulnerability and charisma, however, that round her out and make her the absolute right choice to lead this franchise. She commands the screen and is so exciting to watch. Like her onscreen adopted father Grillo, she possesses a world weariness at odds with her young age. There's something innately compelling about her. Sci-fi isn't without its "strong, female leads" so it's not that she's doing something fully new here. But again, if you're wading through the waters of DTV every weekend like me, you'll find that action section is excessively dude-heavy. I love a good Scott Adkins shoot, kick, punch-em-up as much as the next person but it's genuinely thrilling to have such a bonkers and exciting franchise being led someone like Morgan. She rules.

(Image Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

DTV, or Direct-To-Video, has a bit of a reputation of being looked down upon. It was something I certainly did while opening myself up to the Scorsese's and Kurosawa's in my mid-teens into early twenties. (I also wasn't very fun at parties.) It's easy to write off films when you assume that because they're made on the cheap that they must not have love and care put into them. That could not be further from the truth. In the last few years, I've become less precious about what I watch and it's opened me to a world where I'm just as excited to receive my Agn├Ęs Varda set from Criterion in the mail as I am to have the latest Scott Adkins/Jesse V Johnson joint. One doesn't cancel out the other and both are essential and valid forms of entertainment. DTV shouldn't be a derogatory term nor should it make you view something as less-than. Sometimes, that product is miles better than what you're seeing for quadruple the budget in the multiplex.

Filmmakers like Jesse V Johnson or Isaac Florentine have created an entire market of some of the best action films anywhere on the planet with stars like Adkins or Uwais or Grillo. For every John Wick, as great as those are, there are dozens released each week that go unnoticed. And that's a crime! They're full of all kinds of creators busting their asses making the kind of action flicks that would have thrived in the 80s. Liam O'Donnell is the latest and, perhaps, boldest in that line. His Skyline films aren't just great because of how bonkers or ambitious they are. They're great because he, his cast and his crew care. Mixed in amongst the silliness is a sincerity that does not go unnoticed. Yes, you're watching a martial artist kick the shit out of an alien in a rubber suit. But there's serious craft to this that commands your attention. It's everything film can and should be. These aren't throwaway action flicks, they're simply some of the best sci-fi films out there and do what most wish they could do with half the resources. It's astonishing. 

Filled with incredible fight scenes, wonderfully wacky effects work, a cast of characters you care about and some prescient storytelling (that pandemic hits a little close to home!), Skylin3s is another bombastic entry into what's quickly becoming my favorite franchise onscreen. As long as O'Donnell and Co. are willing, I'll take a hundred more of these. 

-Brandon Streussnig