Anyone who’s paid attention to the movies of 2018 is aware that we are living in a glorious age of bonkers cinema, premises that would be lucky to crack direct-to-video somehow getting opening weekends. As my friend Drave observed, it’s like we’re in the alternate timeline where all of the fake movie trailers are getting theatrical releases. Hurricane Heist, Rampage, Upgrade, Skyscraper, and The Meg are all beneficiaries of this strange energy, as if the desire for escapism from the nightmare of our everyday lives has sparked some extra dimension of insanity. And yes, they may disappear from the theaters as quickly as they came, but the important thing is they were there in the first place.
This rise in theatrical schlock makes it sad, if appropriate, that the franchise which truly harnessed the power of televised schlock has faded so heavily. Sharknado, that brilliantly stupid brainchild of Thunder Levin and The Asylum, is no longer even close to the powerhouse status it achieved in 2013 when Sharknado upended social media. Sharknado 2: The Second One defied the odds to keep the mania alive, but the mania grew craven and self-indulgent when it came to Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! and Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. Sharknado 5: Global Swarming looked like the ticket to the franchise regaining its mojo, a better and more self-aware energy to its absurdity. Sadly though, the diminished returns of the previous films meant the original audience had long since swam for shore.
And its sixth and final installment, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time feels as ready to be done with this as the viewing public appears to be. It’s nowhere near as egregiously bad as the third or fourth installments, but it doesn’t even come close to the first and second, and the newfound energy of the fifth doesn’t carry over as much as you’d expect. It’s just kind of there, intermittently entertaining and frustrating, more of a wasted opportunity than the truly insane ending we’d all love to give to the story whose thesis statement is “guy with chainsaw versus a tornado full of sharks.”
That idea of wasted potential becomes clear within the first 30 seconds of The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time when we’re transported to the prehistoric era, and only legendary sharknado surfer Fin (Ian Ziering, still doing his damnedest to play this straight) makes the journey. Global Swarming’s final act promise of Dolph Lundgren punching and shooting across time alongside Fun proves to be nothing but a beautiful lie, his presence waved away by some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey exposition. Instead what we’re treated to is more of the same, as said exposition allows Fin to reunite with robot/robotic wife April (Tara Reid) and bartender-turned-shark slayer Nova (Cassie Scerbo). It also fleshes out the ensemble with a couple familiar faces, resurrecting Bryan (Judah Friedlander) and Skye (Vivica A. Fox) from Sharknado 2: The Second One to fill out Fin’s Scooby gang.
The lazy feeling of the “it’s time travel, don’t worry about it” explanation carries through most of the film. Despite starting with the ostensibly cool Big Bad idea that the first sharknado needs to be destroyed, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time dispenses with that idea in the first ten minutes and then switches gears to be all about trying to recover Fin and April’s lost son Gil. Writer Scotty Mullen follows the Time Travel 101 handbook, jumping through medieval times, the Revolutionary War, and the Wild West with little explanation or justification as to why there’s a sharknado in any of these places. (There’s also no Noah’s Ark and only one Nazi, adding to the lies were were told.)
It’s a disappointingly rote approach to follow, missing the cuckoo energy levels of Global Swarming that made it seem like the franchise had found its second wind. Events are now routine: appear in a new location, cross paths with a historical figure or two, get a costume change, kill a sharknado, repeat. Knowingly awful punchlines are short on faux gravitas when it counts, most damningly when the series finally pulls out the big gun of “I’m gonna need a bigger chainsaw” and even the groan that follows is half-hearted. Even the sharknados themselves feel tired by this point, occasionally chomping down some historical figure or gaining the ability to breathe fire, but chiefly staying in the distance until the time comes to blow them up.
Lundgren’s absence also foreshadows another problem with the franchise this late in its life: Sharknado’s cultural cachet has degraded to the point that they can barely scrape up the cameos that grew to define the series in its later installments. Whether you were entertained or infuriated by their randomness, there’s no question that the deluge of d-listers produced a reaction from the audience. Now, there’s almost no one who seems to think it’s worth showing up, and you have to settle for a Gilbert Gottfried here and a Darrel Hammond there. (One notable exception is Tori Spelling as Fin’s mother in a 1950s beach party stop, the series finally throwing some meat to the undoubtedly vast Sharknado/Beverly Hills 90210 shared fan base: “Did we go to high school together?” “I would have remembered that.”) The bland are leading the bland, and indistinguishable from any other SyFy original movie lineup.
The lack of mania also means more time spent on the always underwhelming character dynamics, and more time just makes it all seem flatter. There’s no charisma or connection between any of the leads, and while most of the later films seem to know that, The Last Sharknado feels determined to create real stakes and push the actors outside their limited comfort zones. They try to insert some emotional weight with a subplot about Nova trying to rewrite time to save her grandfather, but all it does is remind you of the straight-faced hilarity of her telling that story in the first movie. And another subplot about Robo-April’s head getting into a love triangle with Fin and April doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, yet another sad consequence of Tara Reid’s series-long commitment to showing no engagement with the material.
What makes The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time ultimately frustrating is that there are glimpses of a crazier movie underneath it all. It’s most apparent two-thirds of the way in, when their time machine gets busted and they’re sent 20,000 years into the future. Here, Robo-April is the Borg Queen of the wastelands, maintaining order through a legion of robot clones and flying robot sharks. It’s more fruitful territory than any of the rote visits, the idea of rewriting the laws of time rather than playing in the established order. Plus, we get the hilarious discovery that April only displays emotion when she’s entirely separated from her humanity.
Further malfunctions lead to the only truly inspired moment in the entire outing, when Fin overshoots the mark and lands in the cold open of the original film. Do yourselves a favor and go watch that again, because while rarely remarked up it’s a thing of beauty. It’s more a conceptual short than anything else, a cheap and poorly acted scene that has no connection to anything that happens in the rest of the film and in fact happens a good 2,000 miles away from the action. To call back to that scene at all is impressive; to bring back the exact same actors to reprise their bit parts even moreso; and to turn that moment into a gun-toting, grenade-shooting action sequence is downright inspired. This is the sort of thing The Last Sharknado needed more of, a missed opportunity to time travel through the best moments of the series and remind us just how nutso it could be at its best.
For the most absurd twist, it decides that Sharknado needs a happy ending. The hardest of resets is deployed thanks to Robo-April, time travel used to completely reset to undo the actions of six films. It’s the most obvious fan service of the entire film, both for providing closure to its characters and hooking plenty of returning cameos for one last scene. (You can also tell it’s fan service because unless you’re a fan, you’re not going to remember that Mark McGrath or Masiela Lusha were even in this franchise.) Fin gets the chance to offer one last inspired speech to amassed friends and family, and Al Roker answers the Today Show’s contractual obligation to appear to proclaim that everything is fine.
But as underwhelming as that closing scene is, it’s hard to begrudge Sharknado the chance to put a neat bow on it. No one affiliated with this franchise ever expected it to become a franchise, to take that SyFy/Asylum combination of bad acting, writing, and CGI and strike social-media gold. It shouldn’t have gotten one sequel and it got five of them, more bad than good but with a batting average not that different from other long-running horror series. It has earned its place in the canon of bad movies, and while The Last Sharknado is more whimper than bang of an ending, there are flashes and flickers that remind you why you liked it in the first place.
RIP, Sharknado. You had your ups and downs, your insanities and your inanities, but in the end we’ll remember you for what you were: the films that gave us a tornado full of sharks.
- I truly struggled with that grade, but in the end I just couldn’t keep to original reviewer Caroline Framke’s view that there’s no point in giving anything named Sharknado anything other than an A or an F. Floating just below average is about all I could muster.
- Final rankings: Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens.
- The ending of the film does earn some meta humor points when you note the recasting of the Shepard kids. Interesting that they go back to the Matt from the first film but stick with the Claudia of later films. I wonder if Aubrey Peeples or Cody Linley were upset to not get the call.
- Speaking of The Meg, The Last Sharknado does manage to best it on one front by including a scene where a shark eats a Tyrannosaurus rex, a scene that’s in the prologue to The Meg novel and inexplicably did not make it into the film version. It’s also possibly the worst CGI in a series that broke new ground in awful CGI.
- Most Entertaining Cameo: Alaska, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2, appears as low-budget court enchantress/schemer Morgana. She wins on the basis of being the only one who showed up with any energy, and also because she casts a spell to make sharks breathe fire.
- Most Baffling Cameo: Neil DeGrasse Tyson appears as Merlin, and the scene cuts make it hilariously obvious that he never got within a hundred miles of the main cast.
- Most Depressing Cameo: A combination of archival footage and unconvincing body doubles bring John Heard back from the dead. It’s truly uncomfortable to watch, though given how he talked about the film it’s possible he’d have loved this.
- Credit where it’s due, “Emotionally deranged Easy-Bake Oven” is a great insult.
- “Okay, I know this is extremely confusing, but we’re all very much alive.”
- “Now there’s gonna be a throw-down because that head is jealous.”
- “Yeah, I really love sharks.”
- And that’s a wrap on Sharknado, everyone. Thanks for reading my reviews of the last three films, and thanks to Caroline Framke for setting the bar so high on the first three. (Reviewer dons cowboy hat, leaps on robot shark, and flies off into the unknown.)