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'Skylines' Review: Shines a bit duller than its predecessors

Liam O'Donnell's "Skylines" is a second-sequel that continues to evolve an extraordinary story, but lacks the sci-fi invigoration of its previous entry.

Lindsey Morgan in 'Skylines.'
(Image: © Vertical Entertainment)

Our Verdict

'Skylines' sports all the same noteworthy alien designs and above-average production value, but borrows too heavily from its previous sequel and other genre sequels.

For

  • 🛸 Alexander Siddig lookin' dapper.
  • 🛸 The alien suits.
  • 🛸 Still can't believe 'Skyline' brought us here.

Against

  • 🛸 More comparable to a 'Starship Troopers' sequel.
  • 🛸 New additions are underwhelming.
  • 🛸 Possibly a sequel too far.

Skylines marks the third installment in this unwitting trilogy. In 2017, an unexpected sequel to Skyline beamed from the mind of co-writer Liam O'Donnell as Beyond Skyline. A Los Angeles mass abduction epidemic becomes an Indonesian-inspired fantasy actioner with brain transplantation, prophet children, and Frank Grillo. In 2020, O’Donnell returns with an even more advanced hybridization continuation in Skylines. Earth has now accepted once-evil extraterrestrials as brothers and sisters, except a teensy problem requires the most sequeliest of missions: a space heist! It’s a bit Aliens in essence (what sci-fi franchise is without one), which singled-out isn't a detriment. Beyond Skyline stunned audiences by diverting so drastically from its original, but Skylines maps the same constellations, lacking shock and awe.

Since Skyline and Beyond Skyline's events, brutish foes have flipped their blue antagonist eye-lights to red, signifying allyship to our civilization. “Pilots” live amongst men and women, but a virus now threatens to revert all of these now-peaceful beings to their blue-lighted allegiance. Only Rose Corley (Lindsey Morgan), born with a unique gift that allows her to access alien technology, can save civilization from another extermination that would ensue. Rose joins an elite squad zooming into cosmic territories, where she must prevent a berserker outbreak from undoing all the good that has come from harmonious coexistence.

After an opening sequence where Rose is hauled in by General Radford (Alexander Siddig), any rig’s whiskey sippin’ maybe-not-trustworthy boss, you know what to expect from Skylines. It’s minutes before we’re in the thick of an introductory character montage, where we meet the likes of sharpshooter Owens (Daniel Bernhardt) or tactical operative Leon (Jonathan Howard). Then the squadron exits their undercover vessel after reaching the last stop - an alien stronghold containing a glowing drive that looks like a Faberge space-egg - where overwatch Zhi (Cha-Lee Yoon) monitors the soldiers’ progress from a surveillance station. Owens even lugs a massive flamethrower weapon à la Private Vasquez or Blain Cooper. The hunt is on.

Before long, an evolutionary advantage presents a new formidable adversary in chameleon-cloudy cave lurkers who chase the team deeper into dangerous territory. Given how blue denotes evil in Skylines, the cinematography is chilly and sullen as these wavy-effects figures scamper around rocky landscapes. It’s a somewhat monotone haze as the black character outfits compare to muted feral attackers. Under minty Winterfresh lights (sans purplish or golden reprises), these altercations are more a sequence of poses as trigger-cool men and women blast their nondescript targets. Cue tension between newfound teammates deriving from Rose’s historied friendly-fire in a previous mission, someone's sister caught in the fray, plus distrust of Trent (Jeremy Fitzgerald), Rose’s “brother” but also an alien lifeform on the brink of relapsing back to “kill all humans” mode.

Beyond Skyline struck me as this mix between martial arts, mecha-walker extravagance, and interstellar combat that was amplified by the performances of Frank Grillo and Iko Uwais. Skylines is the lesser version of such reimaginings, trying to blend The Descent with Independence Day in ways that show more seams. Animated vehicular takeovers are a bit less polished, Rose’s cannon arm (her superpower radiates energy) isn’t as exciting, and the shootout sequences are rinse-and-repeat. I never found myself as taken and dazzled by the fortress Rose invades or dire scenarios where death seems imminent, given how Skylines charts a more procedural course. Stargazer Thrills 101, class is in session.

That said, it’s not all forgettable. Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, most famously) returns as a Frankenstein’ed transfusion of worlds who kicks into showoff mode when Earth campsites find themselves under siege. Owens and Zhi tangle in a backflippy brawl given some later-plot ripples. O’Donnell’s costume and special effects departments texturize these marvelous Cthulhu-Lite suits for actors playing Trent, Violet, or other freakish guards, and production design constructs imaginatively-detailed backdrops for characters to explore. Dare I say Trent and Rose are tender together as “siblings,” even if Trent’s “he curses like a human” subtitles do get gimmicky at points?

Skylines fails to bottle the same lightning that ignited Beyond Skyline. Liam O'Donnell returns to the same sandbox but favors fewer toys this time around, despite Rose’s confliction and an impending cure that can unlock incredible abilities that also save multiple populations. In practice, Skylines isn’t proportionately unique when stacked against the countless lookalikes that have thrust space mercenaries or Marines or criminals into the belly of their narrative beast. What sparked excitement in Beyond Skyline feels reused, now recycled. An instance where computerized galactic landscapes and turbo-thruster crafts all look the part, but below their steely exteriors, there’s not much investment in boilerplate arcs or formulaic character DNAs that clunk their way through extravagant motions.

Skylines will be available December 18th on VOD.