With its second movie headed into theaters, we wonder about the cult building around the Strause Brothers’ ‘Skyline’ franchise.
In the pantheon of franchise starters, it’s safe to say 2010’s low budget alien invasion flick Skyline lurks somewhere in the rafters. Directors Colin and Greg Strause teased a sequel on the original press tour and the critically derided first film ends on an action cliffhanger, but a follow-up hasn’t exactly been awaited with baited breath.
That being said, $67m at the worldwide box office (on a frugal $10m budget) obviously delivered a sweet check for someone. Seven years later, the little sci-fi blockbuster that could is back with Beyond Skyline and the burgeoning series has taken a page out of another hugely successful invasion franchise: Cloverfield.
Rather than following the first film’s characters, Liam O’Donnell’s sequel provides an alternative perspective on the first film’s invasion. Both films open in Los Angeles as an aerial attack begins, but Beyond Skyline quickly advances through the first film’s beats and transports Frank Grillo and co. over to Laos. This is where things get interesting. While there’s nothing as drastic as Cloverfield to 10 Cloverfield Lane’s genre shift (kaiju monster movie to psychological thriller chamber piece), Beyond Skyline moves away from its predecessor’s sporadic action to join a full-on resistance movement.
Cloverfield and Skyline share more than just the invasion premise. Both first films present the invasion from the perspective of a party of good-looking young people, and both series interrupt the drama with surprising flashes of violence. Beyond Skyline is the first Skyline or Cloverfield film to be rated R and O’Donnell ups the brutality dutifully.
Skyline has plenty of room to distinguish itself, though. Where Cloverfield has pursued a prestige-like mystery box approach, Skyline should stick to its low-budget B-movie origins. While the budget levels of the two series are actually relatively similar (reportedly between $10–25m), the inventive formal approaches of the two Cloverfield films (found footage and single location) defy their limited resources. Skyline and its sequel, however, commit to full-blown B-movie alien action. The set pieces are necessarily spread out, but the increased reach does make the Skyline pictures feel cheaper than their Cloverfield counterparts.
Most valuable, however, is Beyond Skyline’s global scope. Most of the sequel takes place in South East Asia and that brings with it new cinematic iconography and sociopolitical underpinnings. The Raid superstars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian lead the resistance in Laos and also provided the fight choreography. The Indonesian martial artists bring their distinctive frenetic fighting style to the film, which puts it a mark above most direct-to-video action movies. It’s a gleeful reunion for action fans, and Uwais, in a much lighter role than The Raid’s somber Rama, is better than he’s ever been.
There are also heavy Vietnam allusions, both to the conflict and the films it inspired. Callan Mulvey fills the Dennis Hopper Apocalypse Now role, with his red bandana making him an even more blatant surrogate than John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island earlier this year. The Vietnam links run deeper, with the Lao resistance echoing the Viet Cong’s use of guerrilla warfare and slow-motion shots of fleeing civilians evoking Nick Ut’s iconic photograph, “The Terror of War”.
In addition to the politically charged image making, the change of scenery and varied combat makes for an exciting and refreshing action film. Cloverfield is yet to leave the States (the space station-set third installment God Particle is a different matter), which gives Skyline the opportunity to become a globetrotting invasion franchise complete with rich and varied world cinema iconography.
The first Skyline acknowledges alternative perspectives. At one point, the characters use a telescope to watch other skirmishes take place in the streets of LA. Even at that early stage, Skyline was hinting at the sheer number of stories there are to tell in this world. Where could the franchise head next? The first film featured brief shots of the damage in New York City and London, but that would be low-hanging fruit. Independence Day: Resurgence teased an intensely fought alien war in a fictional African state that would be interesting to explore further, and how about a film that follows the military response of a particular nation?
Skyline may have been a financial success but it doesn’t seem to have spawned much enthusiasm for the franchise. So, for that reason alone, the new characters and locations are a no-brainer. But Beyond Skyline is a more direct sequel than the trailers suggest and O’Donnell’s loyalty to the first film, which he co-wrote, does hold him back.
He moves away from the first film in most respects but seems determined to continue a particular narrative thread. It works in the film but relies on an engagement with the first film’s characters whom most viewers likely won’t remember all that clearly. More positively, it does provide a strong thematic throughline. The first film served as a pregnancy and childbirth allegory, and Beyond Skyline continues the fixation with family.
I think the series’ best hope is to drop the ambitious threequel tease at the end of Beyond Skyline and pursue a future as a Cloverfield-esque franchise that continues to explore this invasion from a variety of perspectives. 10 Cloverfield Lane reached theaters seven years after Cloverfield, so the Skyline sequel delay shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. And, with another Cloverfield film due out in just a few months’ time and rumored future installments in the pipeline, maybe a successful Beyond Skyline release will set the ball rolling for a new, global alien invasion franchise.