It has been five years since the last Sharknado…
The Sharknado series launched in 2013 when the first film featuring shark-filled tornadoes took a bite out of the hearts of the world - specifically, the world of social media as Sharknado became a viral sensation on the night of its TV premiere. Since then, Syfy and B-movie mockbuster studio The Asylum have turned this particular creature feature into an annual summer event of so-bad-it's-good television. Sharknado was followed by Sharknado 2: The Second One, then Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! last year, and the newest addition is Sharknado: The 4th Awakens.
The creative team of director Anthony C. Ferrante and screenwriter Thunder Levin, who were responsible for all previous installments in the series, returned for the latest tale of shark-filled hurricanes. Sharknado: The 4th Awakens picks up five years after Oh Hell No!, with the United States enjoying a sharknado-free existence provided by Astro-X's atmosphere stabilizing technology. However, after one shark-filled sand tornado ravages Las Vegas, more storms form throughout the country that prove to evade Astro-X's technology. But, when all seems lost, the country can always count on Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) and his trusty chainsaw to battle all the sharks - and anything else - these 'nados throw at him.
Playing off the Episode VII: The Force Awakens parody from the get-go, the story of the five-year time jump in the Sharknado series is provided through an opening text crawl in true Star Wars fashion. Additionally echoing A New Hope, Sharknado 4 opens with Fin on a Kansas ranch separated from society with his mother, Raye (Cheryl Tiegs) and youngest son Gilly (Anthony Rodgers). However, The 4th Awakens isn't content to merely echo George Lucas' sci-fi adventure franchise; the latest Sharknado installment is chock full of references to classic films.
Between borrowed lines of dialogue and larger themes taken from beloved movies, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens is one big pop culture reference. Additionally, the film adds in the self-referential humor, gigantic heaping of cameos, and B-movie action sequences fans will recognize as integral to the series' charm.
Of course, the Sharknado series has come a long way since the first film surprised many and became a hit TV movie. But, while The Second One and Oh Hell No! attempted to capitalize on the success of the first film by simply going bigger, The 4th Awakens goes in a slightly different direction. Certainly, the fourth Sharknado movie does go bigger, but rather than include a bigger sharknado (or, a sharkicane as was the case in Oh Hell No!), The 4th Awakens throws all different kinds of creature and elemental tornadoes into the mix.
Since Sharknado: The 4th Awakens opens with sharknadoes having been eradicated, the movie has to come up with a new means of introducing the B-movie storms for its heroes to fight. The resulting varieties of tornadoes - which include, but are not limited to, a bouldernado, an oilnado, a firenado, a lightningnado (though they dropped the ball on naming this one an "electronado"), and a nuclearnado - become a running joke while providing an all-new landscape of storms that Fin and his family must battle against. But, the sharks for which the series is named, still do much of the killing, of course.
Additionally, the evolving storms allow for one of the better classic movie references, a nod to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park with the famous line, "nature always finds a way." This particular line of dialogue works as a quippy explanation for the evolving sharknadoes that are immune to Astro-X's technology while providing The 4th Awakens with a secondary theme reminiscent of Spielberg's film.
However, as with previous Sharknado movies, the major theme in The 4th Awakens is family. The main thread of The 4th Awakens - rather than staying confined to Los Angeles, New York City, or the "Feast Coast" - follows Fin from Las Vegas to Kansas to Chicago to Niagara Falls as he works to bring his family back together so that they may face the storm together. Through this journey, viewers are introduced to Fin's capable cousin Gemini (Masiela Lusha) as well as re-introduced to Fin's son Matt (now played by Cody Linley) who is now married to new character Gabrielle (Imani Hakim).
After rescuing Gilly from Kansas, Fin also meets up with his father Gil (David Hasselhoff) and his daughter Claudia (Ryan Newman). Then, with less fanfare than viewers may be expecting, the entire family is reunited with April (Tara Reid). As fans may remember, April's fate at the end of Oh Hell No! was left up to the viewers to decide. But, rather than leave it a surprise for The 4th Awakens, Syfy previously revealed the fact that #AprilLives in the new installment. Still, the manner in which April lives provides plenty of entertainment considering her super-strength and prosthetic hand that can transform into a chainsaw and, of course, a lightsaber.
That said, although the Sharknado films aren't necessarily known for their emotional depth, April's return and its impact on the surrounding characters is downplayed to the point that viewers may wonder what the point even was in putting her character in jeopardy. However, this isn't the only instance of The 4th Awakens moving quickly past a moment that could offer the film any kind of emotional balance - another includes the death of Gabrielle, which plays out with as much if not less fanfare than Carrot Top's decapitation in the opening action sequence.
All in all, the pace of The 4th Awakens helps the film to move quickly from point to point without giving viewers much time to think about the ridiculousness of the various tornadoes, their portmanteaus, and the means with which Fin and his family fight the storms. As a result, The 4th Awakens gives off the impression that the Sharknado franchise has locked into groove where it can give its fans more to talk about on social media while staying true to its B-movie creature feature/disaster film roots.
However, while certain running jokes may still be entertaining, such as Fin's ever-evolving chainsaw (this time, in broad sword form!), others have begun to wear thin over the course of four movies - in particular, the Sharknado series' now customary end sequence in which members of the Shephard family cut their way out of the belly of a shark. Certainly, The 4th Awakens seems to prove that the Sharknado franchise has some more creativity up its sleeve even as it stuck to the key elements that made previous installments successful. But, if the joke at the core of the films hasn't worn thin yet for the majority of viewers, Sharknado will need to inject even more creativity if the series hopes to stay afloat.
Photos: Patrick Wymore, Tyler Golden/Syfy