TWISTERS

★★★★

STRAP IN FOR A WORTHY LEGACY SEQUEL TO THE BELOVED 90s BLOCKBUSTER

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Daniel Lammin
11th July 2024

Legacy sequels, prequels and reboots are now an accepted part of the current cinema ecology, to the point where even the most obscure properties are being resurrected. For the most part, they are met with audience indifference and critical derision, led by a promotional campaign hell-bent on making you feel emotional about something you might have watched once as a kid as if it's the most sacred text that has ever existed. It mostly feels cynical, insincere and frustrating.

So when then, when 'Twisters' was announced, was it so damn exciting?

I've thought about this a lot in the lead-up to the release of this sequel to Jan de Bont's preposterous 1996 smash hit 'Twister', one of the crown jewels of the dumb 90s blockbusters, and I think, fundamentally, that the dumbness of the original is the sequel's secret weapon. We can't feel emotional about the original characters, because (as charming as Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were), they were barely characters. We can't feel passionate about the story, because there barely was one. What we remember 'Twister' for, and what makes it just as entertaining nearly 30 years later, is that we're there to watch some tornados reap absolute havoc. That's it. And in the end, that's the only legacy that 'Twisters', the much-hyped sequel from Oscar-nominated director Lee Isaac Chung ('Minari'), has to deal with. We aren't going to this film because we feel some deep nostalgic pull. We're going for the twisters. And twisters, at the very least, is what 'Twisters' delivers.

After a tragic accident during her days as a PhD student, Kate Cooper (Daisy Edgar-Jones, 'Where the Crawdads Sing', TV's 'Normal People') has left storm chasing behind, despite having a natural aptitude for reading the movements of the weather. However, when her old friend Javi (Anthony Ramos, 'In The Heights') approaches her to help him with developing a new technology that could give them more valuable data on the behaviour of tornados, she decides to step back into the fray. Headed into the middle of a freak weather event in Oklahoma, Kate joins Javi's team, constantly terrorised by popular YouTube "Tornado Wrangler" Tyler Owens (Glenn Powell, 'Anyone But You', 'Top Gun: Maverick') and his eclectic team of tornado-loving misfits, more interested in the thrill of the chase than the science. Yet as Kate begins to question the motives of Javi's employers, and as the intensity of the storms increases dramatically, Kate finds herself teaming up with Tyler, enticed by the possibility of returning to her old experiment, reconciling with the tragedy of her past and potentially saving many lives.

SWITCH: 'TWISTERS' TRAILER 2

Written by Mark L. Smith ('The Boys in the Boat'), 'Twisters' has a very similar setup to 'Twister' - someone who swore off chasing tornados gets pulled back in and gets caught in a complicated love triangle in the process of trying to do important weather experiments - but to its credit, it isn't coy about it. There's comfort in the familiarity, and despite the fear that they'll find a way to weave this into the characters or story of the first time, they never succumb to this temptation. From the word go though, 'Twisters' distinguishes itself by flagging that this will be a much more intense experience. The tornados in 'Twister' were like Godzilla; fun movie monsters where you only occasionally considered the enormous cost of their destruction. Their direct impact is of much more concern for 'Twisters', and while Kate's origin story is not dissimilar to Jo (Helen Hunt) in the first film, both the setup and Chung's execution is far more brutal, anchoring her decision to walk away and then lending her choice to return a real weight. It didn't matter that much whether we cared for any of the characters in 'Twister' because it was essentially a skilled rollercoaster ride (and I mean that as a compliment). In order for the drama of 'Twisters' to work, we need to care about this protagonist and, consequently, the impact these disasters have on those in their path.

That said, Chung doesn't forget that, first and foremost, we're here to have fun, and after the intensity of its prologue, we're catapulted into a raucous, rambunctious first act, introducing everyone in this boisterous ensemble. For the most part, Smith's screenplay is perfunctory, never really finding the right balance between clunky exposition, even clunkier dramatic clichés and a bit of science jargon thrown in. What really makes 'Twisters' work is its cast, with everyone making an impression, everyone in step with what Chung is trying to pull off, and everyone feeling like a member of an ensemble. In this sense, 'Twisters' is the rare best-case-scenario for a legacy sequel, one that has actually taken the time to work out what was so great about the film it was following up. 'Twister' had a fantastic ensemble cast, and in many ways, the cast of 'Twisters' is even stronger. They all have such an easy chemistry with one another, and are able to pull off the necessary combination of bravura, awe and fear that the screenplay never really manages to.

Lee Isaac Chung is also very aware of the transition of time between the first film and this film, and (unlike the 'Jurassic World' franchise, for example) doesn't just assume that we'll be satisfied with more of the same. There are no big sweeping shots of tornados appearing like an eldritch beast. With the free-flowing camera work of cinematographer Dan Mindel ('Star Wars: The Force Awakens'), each weather event feels more grounded in reality. We not only watch them form but, visually, understanding how they form, and the characters don't all initially respond to them with absolute fear. In fact, within half an hour, the film has trumped the iconic ending of the first film, with Tyler and his team driving straight into the damn things.

This leads to a subtle commentary at the heart of 'Twisters', about the way in which we view these kinds of natural phenomenon. In the first act of the film, Tyler and his team are always the protagonist in their tornado pursuits, not the tornado itself. There's a moment where Tyler and Kate watch a rodeo, and Tyler describes riding a tornado as being like riding a bull. It's a thrill ride, a momentary jolt of adrenaline that is all about the person experiencing it. Tyler even has his face on a t-shirt. This is the difference between Kate and Tyler that becomes the emotional crux of the film - he sees them as entertainment, where Kate is literally scarred by them. And it's at this very point where these two characters establish this difference, after we've chased some tornados and had some fun, that 'Twisters' takes it up a notch and the reality of what these things are capable of comes into full view.

There's a real texture to this film, a grit and a sense of temperature. You feel like you're really there in the mud with them.

While there aren't as many set pieces in this film as in the first one, the two major sequences in the second half of the film are significantly more intense. Here, the decision to forgo any big sweeping visuals pays off, with the camera taking us right into the immediate threat and horror of being in the path of a tornado. The sense of peril is palpable, and death is a constant presence. You can feel the whole tone of the film carefully shift as it moves into its second half, where respect for these events is re-established and the necessity to find a way to, at the very least, predict them becomes more pertinent. Of course, in standard Hollywood fashion, we see the core team come together and Javi realise the hypocrisy of his employers and Tyler take it all more seriously, but the great work from Chung and the cast means this feels organic rather than manufactured, and as we're pulled into the downright-nightmare-inducing final act, we're been brought to a point of not just caring about the characters we know the names of, but by virtue of seeing it through their eyes, the people they're trying to save.

It also helps that the film just looks gorgeous, shot on celluloid and with beautifully rendered visual effects. There's a real texture to this film, a grit and a sense of temperature. You feel like you're really there in the mud with them. As much as the film grounds itself in a sense of reality, it's also happy to indulge in the ridiculous - Kate's central experiment is probably complete balderdash, and there's one set piece that's total spectacle, but again, the film has set itself up so carefully that those flashes of silliness never really matter. It's a real credit to Chung as a director that he has such a great handle on the tone and rhythm of the film, especially when the screenplay isn't offering him that much to begin with.

Daisy Edgar-Jones really shines as Kate, a complex and arresting protagonist firmly kept as the central focus of the film. Her fear is as palpable as her addiction to the thrill, and there's always an integrity to her actions and responses. It's proof of how great Edgar-Jones is that Glenn Powell never gets in her way as the lead of the film, striking as entrancing a chemistry with her as Hunt and Paxton in the first film. They're a great pairing and the film benefits from it. All that, and the film just further cements what an absolute superstar Powell is. He once again, as he always has, pops off the screen with so much natural charisma and charm, but always with a real intelligence for how he can weaponise that to the film's advantage. It almost feels like a cliché to say it now, but he really does have the energy of a young Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, and you can't take your damn eyes off him. Completing the central trio, wonderful as always, is Anthony Ramos as Javi, who deftly navigates his role as the film's moral conundrum. Rather than feeling like a third wheel to the chemistry between Edgar-Jones and Powell, he brings a spark with Edgar-Jones of his own, in many ways a more gentle and emotional one. Their journey feels like the most integral, both wrestling with this horrific past together and the need to come to peace with it. May more films give Ramos this much space to shine.

Overall, the supporting cast is one fire-cracker after another, from Brandon Perea ('Nope') as Tyler's wonderfully unhinged partner Boone to Sasha Lane ('American Honey') as their electric drone pilot Lily, from Harry Hadden-Paton (Netflix's 'The Crown') as the hapless British reporter Ben to the stupidly handsome and unexpectedly hilarious David Corenswet ('Pearl') as Javi's stone-faced colleague Scott. Maura Tierney also sets the screen on fire for a few scenes as Kate's mother Cathy, somehow stealing her scenes from even Glen Powell. I can't emphasise enough just what a great cast this is, far beyond the names I've mentioned. Chung has populated his film with such a great team both in front of and behind the camera, and 'Twisters' is all the better for it.

Despite some clunky moments and some misgivings as the credits were rolling, 'Twisters' has really grown on me in the hours since I saw it. Sure, it skirts around all the expected traps of a legacy sequel and I wish the script had been better, but it's executed with such flair and skill, and the more everyone involved has a great time, the more we do too. On the one hand, it approaches these very real kinds of natural disasters with a sense of moral responsibility, understanding that what could be blockbuster spectacle in the 90s now needs more nuance. On the other though, it doesn't forget what we love about 'Twister' in the first place, that it's a piece of balls-to-the-wall entertainment, with beautiful-looking and talented actors facing off nature's most mysterious and unstoppable meteorological foot soldiers. We come to 'Twisters' for the twisters, and by god, they're worth the ride.

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