Evidently, it’s never too late to spin off a franchise – Skyline, directed by effects men Colin and Greg Sprounse, came out in 2010 and wasn’t terribly well-received, though I liked it a lot more than bigger-budgeted tosh like Battle Los Angeles and Battleship. Now, here’s a sequel that more or less stands on its own – though the lead characters of the earlier film do show up eventually, albeit played by new actors and transformed into alien tools – and expands on the Skyline universe the way Aliens, … 28 weeks later or Monsters The Dark Continent do on their relatively small-scale originals. The first act takes place congruent with the first film,as widowed alcoholic LA cop Mark (Frank Grillo, of the Purge sequels) bails his pugnacious son Trent (Jonny Weston) out of lock-up and heads home with him on the subway when a giant spaceship hovers over the city, sucking people up into the blue light so their sucked-out brains can be implanted in several models of organic-looking mecha. Along with train driver Audrey (Bojana Novakovic, of The Hallow), blind Vietnam veteran Sarge (Antonio Fargas) and some stooges who don’t last long, Mark and Trent fight their way through the tunnels and are snatched up to the ship – where Trent’s brain winds up in alien armour (you can spot the rebel brains because their four robot eyes glow red instead of green) and Mark finds himself looking after the rapidly-growing, red-eyed newborn daughter of the last film’s protagonists.
This seems to get through its standard plot, and kills off most of its standard cast, before the half-hour mark, when it laps the first film and, as the title promises, goes Beyond Skyline … and dumps its characters in Laos, where there’s a war between semi-heroic drug smugglers and corrupt local cops is raging even though the aliens are around and harvesting. Writer-director Liam O’Donnell, who scripted the first film, draws a bit on Nigel Kneale and H.P. Lovecraft – while the invader aesthetic owes a lot to HR Giger and the other creatives of the Alien franchise and odd Japanese stuff like The Guyver. One thing that distinguished Skyline was that its aliens weren’t just after territory like the invaders of Independence Day and its imitators – here, it’s theorised that the aliens seeded the planet with life and are now coming back after aeons to harvest brains and babies for slave soldiers. Here, we get a lot of ideas – perhaps too many – trotted out between the impressive action sequences. In Laos, we meet new characters – tough crook Sua (Iko Uwais, of The Raid), his sister Kanya (Pamelyn Chee), Australian doper chemist Harper (Callan Mulvey) and a long-haired feral rogue cop (Yayan Ruhian, also of The Raid) – who wind up pitching in against the aliens. Sua shows Mark the Vietnam-surplus weaponry hidden under an ancient city, and claims that having survived the American apocalypse in the 1970s the country is ready to take on the alien apocalypse in this century – though he also gets to use vicious martial arts against giant alien battlebots.
The monster design is biomechanical cthulhoid, and there are enough gabbled explanations to suggest more than is actually revealed about how they work. Like Skyline, this is an effects-heavy film with microbytes of character drama – though the story turns out to be surprisingly complex, with characters reduced to disembodied brains still playing a crucial part in the action. For all its scope, there’s a scrappy underdoggy feel to this – which means I’m willing to get past some awkward moments because it delivers so much awesomeness, from a kaiju mecha lured onto a Vietnam War-era minefield to the fast-growing John Connor heroine (Valentine Payen) of what seems like a trailer for the next installment commandeering an alien mothership on a reprisal mission. It takes a risk in going the Cannonball Run route of including slapstick outtakes in the end credits – which also demystify some of the effects processes. All in all, good value s-f pulp.