There’s something about watching stuff get blown up and annihilated that’s a ceaselessly pleasurably cinematic treat. You’d think it was something that viewers would grow tired of or Hollywood might move on from eventually, but nope. Year after year audiences escape the heat of the summer to feel the heat of stuff blowing up real good on the movie screen. And of all the stuff-getting-smashed genres, it’s the disaster picture that seems to have endured the longest. Toss a bunch moderately developed characters on screen, then surround them with some sort of natural disaster that makes things go boom, and you’ve got yourself a hit picture, son! This week’s addition to the genre, is about tornado chasers, which means that it’s an unofficial remake of Twister. However, it’s also a found footage movie, so that makes it kind of different, I guess. Stuff does get destroyed though. No denying that.
Into the Storm deceptively presents itself as something with slightly more content than a theme park ride by introducing the audience to a collection of characters who wander through events that almost suggest the semblance of a plot. There are a collection of tornado-chasing documentary filmmakers (oddly led by improv comedy legend Matt Walsh who is not allowed to be funny) driving around in a van and mini-tank combo covered in cameras. Their goal is to film tornadoes up close and personal and given that they feature prominently in a found footage tornado movie, they will achieve that goal sucka. Then there’s a semi functional family made up of a bitter vice principal single father (Richard Armitage, who for the love of god should not be asked to do an American accent again) and a pair of barely distinguishable teenage sons. Daddy has forced the boys to film the local high school graduation, so they have an excuse to have cameras rolling all damn day. Then one of them sneaks off to an abandoned factory on the edge of town to help a pretty girl with a school video project to manufacture a little broken family drama. Finally there are a pair of local rednecks who pull stunts for youtube and can’t wait to get all up in a tornado when the opportunity arises. I didn’t mention any of these characters’ names because that’s pointless. They aren’t really people, they’re just action figures with a single tedious personality trait created purely to be a part of tornado set pieces. It’s not exactly inspired screenwriting, but it serves a purpose.
That purpose is a bunch of crash-boom-bang material. Thankfully, it’s all executed skillfully and often downright exquisitely by director Steven Quale and his army of digital wizards. Quale has been helping James Cameron out with his effects movie behemoths since The Abyss and made the transition into directing with the rather unexpectedly excellent Final Destination 5. If you saw Final Destination 5, you’ll know that Quale either doesn’t understand or more likely doesn’t care about character development or smooth storytelling. Nope, he’s a techno geek who loves all the toys of blockbuster filmmaking and knows exactly how to use them for maximum impact.
Once Into the Storm gets all of the pesky set up out of the way, it can be a wild ride. Quale stages some stunning set pieces like an entire airport being sucked up into a raging twister or a high school getting torn apart by a tornado shown from the inside, or one bizarre moment when a tornado catches fire and turns into a super-duper death machine. The scenes are viscerally exciting and an assault on the senses. That Quale didn’t seem to focus on much else during production doesn’t really matter much when his disaster moving is chugging along pitched at 11. He barely even concerns himself with the logistics of justified cameras in a found footage feature and that’s not as annoying as it sounds since it means the blockbuster is shot like a proper movie for maximum impact rather than a tossed off as a shaky-cam mess. Quale’s interest in found footage is limited to using it as an excuse to stage POV shots of characters getting sucked into tornados and it’s worth it for those money shots.
It’s very easy to poke holes in Into the Storm. The plot is ripped off of Twister wholesale. The emotional beats of every character are nauseatingly on the nose. The dialogue often sounds like the script was developed for the SyFy channel. The acting can feel very rushed and rough. The film has no meaning or subtext whatsoever. In almost every way, Into the Storm feels generic, tossed off, and completely disposable. Thankfully, the only elements that succeed are the special effects set pieces and they are all strong enough to justify paying to see the movie on the biggest possible screen with the loudest possible sound system. The only reason to see a movie like this is for the special effects, body count, and explosions.
Would Into the Storm have been better with even a competent screenplay? Yeah, obviously, of course. However, we didn’t get that movie and thanks to Steven Quale’s knack for spectacle, it doesn’t matter that much. Into the Storm might not necessarily be a “good” movie, but it is certainly a thrilling, exciting, entertaining, and impressive one. In the shit-goes-boom genre, that’s all that really matters.