Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Skyline
When it debuted in front of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the Skyline trailer promised one of the most exciting, and at the same time, unsettling, movie offerings of the Fall season – drawing comparisons to other aliens-on-earth films such as District 9 as well as Independence Day.
Now that Skyline has officially invaded theaters, does it live up to these lofty expectations?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Where District 9 relied on terrific performances and weighty subject matter, and Independence Day wowed audiences with epic battles as well as enjoyable (albeit campy) writing , Skyline comes across as a big-screen B-movie with a convoluted plot and too limited of a scope to make the audience feel the worldwide alien-apocalypse that’s supposedly unfolding in the film.
If you’ve missed our previous coverage of Skyline, and haven’t been “taken” by the deluge of blue-lens flares in Rogue Pictures’ ad campaign, here’s the official synopsis of the film:
"In the sci-fi thriller Skyline, strange lights descend on the city of Los Angeles, drawing people outside like moths to a flame where an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth."
While there are a number of large scale set-pieces in Skyline, nearly the entire film is constricted to a single high-rise building. At first it might sound as if the title, Skyline, is a subtle nod to something of substance; though after the one hundred and forty minute runtime, audiences will realize there is nothing subtle about the film and the title is merely a nod to where ninety percent of the action will take place: Away from the troubles of the main characters. Don’t believe me? The characters in Skyline literally view the film’s biggest action set piece through a telescope.
Headliners Eric Balfour (24) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) aren’t given a lot of options to work with, either. The Brothers Strause (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem), who directed the film, have taken away all contact with the outside world - despite what the trailers indicated (Check out the 1:17 mark on the second Skyline trailer for footage not in the final film). TV Stations are broadcasting HD feeds of nothing but empty chairs, the entire Internet has essentially frozen, and emergency calls to 911 go unanswered. Even the Los Angeles streets are empty, save for super-size monster aliens – as well as flying squid aliens. It’s clear the director pair attempted to work within their means, but in doing so crippled any narrative momentum the story could have harnessed.
Instead, Skyline is nothing more than a series of failed attempts at escaping a luxury high-rise during a global alien invasion. It’s not even made clear whether the alien invasion is global until later in the film, probably because it would have stifled the characters’ game plan – they’re focused on escaping to a nearby marina, assuming that because there are no spaceships over the water, the group will be safe in a boat.
Jarrod (Balfour) and Terry (Faison) as well as the rest of the central group: Elaine (Scottie Thompson), Candice (Brittany Daniel), and Denise (Crystal Reed) could have just as easily been characters in a teen slasher-film - if the teen slasher film took place in a posh luxury apartment building. Each of the characters is a young adult trope with little worthwhile definition: Jarrod and Terry are childhood best friends, Jarrod loves Elaine, and Terry is cheating on Candice with Denise. In fact, the character the film invests the most emotion in, with the musical score soaring as the tension reaches a critical level, is a fighter pilot on a suicide run, a person that is never seen onscreen - save for the flips and spins of his or her bomber.
Early lines of dialogue (which attempt to establish the characters) are so on-the-nose that most audience members will figure out the film’s flight plan without exercising much thought. Every moment is predictable – because there’s not a single new trick in Skyline’s playbook. Each dramatic situation follows a familiar story-beat from another sci-fi (or horror) film – especially The Matrix.
The most egregious failure (as a result of the film’s limited scope and convoluted plot) is that by the end of the film, we still know very little about the aliens – which The Brothers Strause probably intend to address in the already in-the-works Skyline 2. However, even amidst the over-the-top production of Independence Day, Roland Emmerich had the sense to provide moviegoers with the Area 51 scene – where, even though it was only a minor glimpse, the filmmakers peeled back the curtain enough for audiences to understand the filmmaker’s take on alien-life.
In Skyline, the Brothers Strause probably thought the events of “Day Three” would give a hearty peek at their aliens - but the final ten minutes of the film are so poorly executed (not to mention based on an inane foundation), it could make audience members wish everyone had just died in the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink absurdity of “Day Two.”
The movie fails on a number of levels – but that probably won’t prevent action-loving film fans, looking for a brainless romp, from being amused. There are a number of set pieces that offer over-the-top (but thoroughly entertaining) mayhem – similar to Shoot ‘Em Up or the Crank series (though, these films are still significantly better than Skyline). However, even the most dedicated audience members will be laughing at moments the filmmakers couldn’t possibly have intended – making an argument for the potential enjoyment the film can - given the right mindset - offer.
Skyline is still a poor entry in the sci-fi action genre – mainly because it’s missing both the scope and mythology audiences expect from films in this category. While it’s easy to forgive a film for neglecting one of these requirements, Skyline is so far removed from the action (and story) that it’s hard to recommend to anyone but action fans looking to switch off their brains for an hour and a half. Hopefully, if there needs to be a Skyline 2, the Brothers Strause will hand the directorial duties over to whoever put together that first chilling Skyline trailer – which, if you’re undecided about the film, you can check out below:
If you want to talk about the film without worrying about spoiling it for others, head over to our Skyline Spoilers Discussion.
Skyline is now open in theaters everywhere.