‘Twisters’ Review: Lee Isaac Chung’s Blockbuster Sequel Is a Breath of Fresh Air

Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell and Anthony Ramos star in a disaster movie that recaptures the breezy charms of the original

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Daisy Edgar-Jones, Anthony Ramos and Glen Powell in "Twisters" (Credit: Universal)

The beauty of Jan De Bont’s 1996 blockbuster “Twister” was not that it pushed the boundaries of computer-generated imagery to create incredible, realistic tornados. The beauty was they spent all that money and made all those innovations just to make an old school romantic comedy. “Twister” wasn’t an action epic so much as it was a big budget remake of the Howard Hawks classic “His Girl Friday,” with Helen Hunt in the Cary Grant role, Bill Paxton in the Rosalind Russell role, and the tornados playing the part of the news story they’re chasing down.

Now, the beauty of Lee Isaac Chung’s “Twisters” is that it follows a similar formula. “Twisters” has a lot of eardrum-bursting action sequences but at its heart it’s just a romantic character piece about two people finding each other, surrounded by a throng of character actors who, like the supporting cast in “Twister,” seem slightly overqualified for their tiny roles. All in all, the film has more personality than we’re used to in studio-driven event films. It’s easy to get swept up in it.

Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Where the Crawdads Sing”) stars as Kate Cooper, a meteorologist whose tornado sense is superior to any computer-driven weather predictions. She’s got a theory that tornadoes can be dissipated by filling them with, I didn’t catch the technical term, but basically “stuff.” If they put this “stuff” in barrels and get a tornado to suck them up into the sky, the tornado is supposed to disappear. It doesn’t work, lots of people die, and now it’s five years later and Kate has given up on her dreams for a cushy, boring desk job.

That’s when her old storm-chasing partner Javi (Anthony Ramos, “In the Heights”) shows up to pull her out of retirement. He’s developed a technology that can map the inside of a tornado, but to do that they need to find a tornado, and he needs Kate to track them down, since apparently computers suck. When she waffles, he points out that there’s a once in a generation tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and that “it’s coming after the people we love,” as if the weather system is the shark from “Jaws: The Revenge” and it won’t stop until it’s killed everyone Kate ever knew.

Kate begrudgingly goes along and the job should be easy, except they’re not alone out there. A group of high-tech storm-chasers with a hit YouTube channel are chasing the same storms, and they’re constantly getting in the way. These “Storm Wranglers” are spending what looks like hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and have over a million subscribers, which is an awful lot of effort for a relatively small reward. They could reach a bigger audience by shit-talking “Star Wars” in their living rooms.

The Storm Wranglers are led by Tyler Owens, played by Glen Powell, and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) is committed to making him a sex symbol. Director of photography Dan Mindel (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”) films Glen Powell like a beer commercial could break out at any second. Powell seems happy to play the part: cracking wise, opening his heart, and finding a lost dog because, as Tyler himself says, “Of course I found the dog.” Romance between Kate and Tyler isn’t just inevitable, it’s demanded.

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Glen Powell in “Twisters” (Universal Pictures)

There’s not a lot of plot to “Twisters,” which again, is in the “Twister” tradition. The closest thing the film has to a villain is ethical complexity, as Kate finds out that Javi’s financial backers aren’t wholly altruistic, and that Tyler only sells t-shirts with his face on them for the sake of charity. It’s a film that argues that in a capitalist system it’s impossible to make entirely moral choices, and that’s more than a lot of other blockbusters have on their mind, even if the concept isn’t explored terribly well.

That said, “Twisters” does have its share of silliness. These professional storm chasers have an odd tendency to yell out things they all know, as if they’re somehow aware they’ve got an audience. “Overpasses are the worst in tornados!” is a rather absurd thing to yell when there’s literally no other cover and you’re all about to die.“Their moisture numbers are off!” is also one hell of a sentence to scream, and kudos to the cast for making lines like that more-or-less work.

It’s a hard job, acting in these kinds of movies, and Lee Isaac Chung assembled a great cast to do it. Sasha Lane, Kiernan Shipka, Tunde Adebimpe, Katy O’Brian, Harry Hadden-Paton and many more actors besides bring real character to what could have been a generic ensemble of scientists and thrill-seekers. Even future Superman David Corenswet shows up in a pretty thankless stick-in-the-mud corporate stooge role, the kind of guy who literally only exists to have mud splashed on his face at the end. That’s not a great part, but Corenswet knows he’s supposed to be unlikable and he does his damn job.

“Twisters” doesn’t have a lot to do with the original film as far as the plot and characters go. We see the weather-scanning device Helen Hunt invented in the film’s opening scenes, so we know it takes place in the same universe, and there are a couple of winking references if you know where to look for them (“It’s good to have you back.” “I’m not back.”).

But you don’t need to see “Twister” to appreciate “Twisters.” They just have the same breezy vibes and impressive visual scale. For a sequel to a nearly 30-year-old movie, “Twisters” miraculously stands out against the modern blockbuster landscape. Just like “Twister” did back in 1996. It’s the rare legacy sequel done right.

A Universal Pictures release, “Twisters” opens exclusively in theaters on July 17.

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