Cinema Dispatch: Happy Death Day 2U

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Happy Death Day 2U and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Christopher Landon

Man, I’ve been sitting on this one for almost two weeks.  I don’t know what happened!  Even though I saw it right when it was released a bunch of movies came out and this went on the back burner!  It certainly had a lot to live up to considering that the first movie was one of my favorite films of 2017; not to mention that a sequel seemed like the worst idea ever as the first movie felt so complete in its story.  Bill Murray never made Groundhog’s Day 2, and probably for the same reason he never did a Ghostbusters 3; it would have been a terrible idea!  ANYWAY, before I say something that’ll REALLY tick people off, does this pointless sequel manage to justify its own existence, or are we doomed to yet another brilliant movie made to churn out sequels until you forgot why you liked the darn thing in the first place!?  Let’s find out!!

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) having discovered who it was that was trying to kill her and closing the time loop that put her in a Groundhog’s day scenario is living the good life!  She woke up and it was a different day, and that guy Carter (Israel Boussard) who helped her out all those times but has no memory of it is making out with her!  Yup, it looks like easy street for Ol’ Gelbman!  Oh wait!  Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) seems to be stuck in a time loop of his own!  How did THAT happen?  Hm… maybe it has to do with quantum reactor that Ryan and his two classmates (Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin) have been working on!  Wait, what?  So all this time, it was a giant science thingy in the basement that somehow made Tree relive that day over and over again?  Huh.  Well okay then!  So that mystery that didn’t need solving is now solved, but what ISN’T solved is why things are still acting up in the space time continuum after she managed to close the loop?  Well before she can find out, things get a LITTLE bit out of control and the quantum thingy… explodes I guess, and puts Tree back into her original loop.  OR DID IT!?  It turns out that she’s not just back reliving Monday the eighteenth over and over again; she’s doing it in a parallel universe where things are significantly different in ways that Tree is gonna have to discover the hard way!  Can Tree and the science squad manage to figure out how to work the darn machine and send her back to her own universe?  Will this universe actually have something in it that Tree desperately needs, and will she give up her old life to live here?  If the killer from the first movie isn’t the killer in THIS universe, then who IS the killer!?

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“OLD MAN BLUMHOUSE!?”     “That’s right!  I wanted to make horror movies even cheaper so I just started stabbing teenagers myself!  And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for SAG-AFTRA regulations!!”

And the verdict is… its good!  It’s completely unnecessary to be sure, but it’s got some neat ideas and a whole new approach to the material to keep it feeling fresh just long enough to kill an hour and a half which is more than can be said about a lot of other sequels in this genre.  The first one is still better without a doubt because it’s suspenseful, funny, and has an ingenious premise that is executed phenomenally, and while this one does only a few of those things and not quite as well, they also expand the mythology in unexpected ways with a go for broke attitude that I certainly found delightful if nothing else.  Maybe we should make it a rule that anyone who wants to do an unnecessary sequel needs to make it an entirely different genre.  I’d certainly watch a Freddy Kruger musical or seeing Jason Voorhees in a period piece reflecting on racism in America!  Heck, it’d certainly be better than Green Book, AM I RIGHT!?

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I think I need to restart this review after that one…

When the trailers first started coming out revealing that it would be a continuation of Tree’s story instead of a whole new scenario, I was rather disappointed because it really did feel like her story was complete and that finding a way to get her back into the story would make about as much sense as Men in Black 2 where they completely undid the ending of the first film so they didn’t have to come up with a new character.  Instead, the movie is aping a different completely unnecessary sequel, but one that I genuinely love and was thinking of BEFORE this film just straight up name drops it; Back to the Future Part 2.  Yes, we’re basically taking the first film and rewriting it to take even MORE advantage of the goofy premise the first time around!  Now the thing about Back to the Future Part 2 is that, while the science fiction elements of the first film were ultimately secondary and a means to an end for the main storyline, the execution was still fascinating enough that a sequel could (and did as far as I’m concerned) expand on that in creative ways.  Here, there’s almost nothing to grasp onto as nothing about the first film even gave an indication of how any of this worked (or even that we were dealing with a science fiction premise) and left it up to the audience to fill in the blanks themselves or, more importantly, focus on the rest of the movie instead of the time traveling mechanics.  It SOUNDS like a recipe for disaster and I’m not about to lie and say they completely nail it here, but I think they do a surprisingly good job at tackling such an arduous task of creating these new mechanics out of whole cloth and making it somehow work with the last film.  Even if there wasn’t an actual time machine last time, you can still see why the premise of the first film could lend itself to that kind of toy box approach where all the questions you might have had or alternate scenarios that could have work are shown here to satiate your imagination.  I don’t know if we ever REALLY needed a sequel to the first movie, but since we got one anyway at least they swung for the fences!

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“ROBOT HOOOOOUUUUUSSSSSE!!”

So at the very least, they found a way to keep the formula somewhat fresh by expanding the mythology of the first one.  Now what about the story itself?  Eh… it’s fine.  It’s not great, but it’s certainly leaning into the new status quo which gives this a really disparate tone from the original film which could credibly be called a horror film while this one is… well Back to the Future Part 2.  More broadly speaking, it’s a John Hughes coming of age comedy, only aged up a bit in regards to themes and frankly much less raunchy than those films were.  You can use a lot of words when describing the first film, but hijinks isn’t one of them, and this movie is basically a farce for eighty percent of its runtime.  You’ve got the nerdy kids with their science experiment, the two characters who like each other but one is in a relationship (multiverses are a real pain), you’ve even got the bumbling dean who I can only assume is off shouting at the Deltas when he isn’t finding his way into the plot of this film!  Now kudos across the board for the movie having the guts to go so far into silliness where the last one, while certainly funny, had a much darker edge to its humor.  It works WAY more than it should for a sequel that already shouldn’t exist… but I don’t LOVE it as much as I LOVED the first film.  Yeah, I’ll admit that I wanted this horror sequel to be… well more of a horror film which it is in fits and spurts, but within the context of the super silly B plot about a bunch of nerds breaking the space time continuum, it just ends up losing a lot of its presence and feels almost like an afterthought; down to the solution to the murder mystery plot which I won’t spoil but doesn’t even seem to WANT to be a twist.  Sure, I guessed the first movie within seconds, but I doubt that was everyone’s experience and they did at least try there to throw out a few misdirections.  Here, they don’t even bother with that because the scary murder baby stuff is so utterly tertiary.

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“I’M IMPORTANT STILL!”     “Whatever you say, buddy.”

The movie does have some additional flaws to it.  One of the things I criticized the first film for was using suicide for one of the deaths which I felt was a bit callous and tone oblivious.  So what do they do HERE!?  They make an ENTIRE MONTAGE of Tree finding more and more elaborate ways to kill herself in set to a pop song to replace the murder montage in the first film.  Not only does it feel even MORE crass here than it did there, but it also feels completely unnecessary.  With all the sci-fi changes to the premise, it’s never made clear if Tree NEEDS TO DIE each day or for the loop to continue; something that wasn’t an issue in the first film because she couldn’t HELP but get killed every night.  I mean I don’t want to over think this because the movie is intentionally goofy which is a GOOD thing, but if the time loop resets each night without her dying then that’s a GOOD THING because she won’t get progressively damaged after each death, and if the time loop WON’T reset if she doesn’t die than that’s a GOOD THING TOO since the days will just keep going and she won’t have to catch everyone back up to speed each morning!  That’s kind of getting into the weeds a bit though, so let’s focused on an issue with the story and themes.  I feel like the filmmakers weren’t sure about how deep they wanted to make this movie, so what ends up happening is that they DO have a strong emotional core of this movie in Tree’s character arc, but they keep undercutting it with a motivation for that is much more straightforward but feels incongruous to everything else.  Tree is stuck in a reality where, for reasons I won’t spoil here, things are actually a lot better than they are in her true reality and she has to think through about what she really wants.  If she has an opportunity to stay in THIS reality, should she take it?  I mean sure, the divergent point between this BETTER world and her old one seems to have happened a few years ago, but compared to the decades that she could be living here those seem rather inconsequential, right?  Then again, she’s not the same Tree that grew up here and slipping into that role isn’t something she can just decide to do, so can she ever truly be a part of this place without feeling like an imposter?  That’s a lot of cool sci-fi ideas that focuses on Tree’s sense of identity and what she needs to be happy which is great… but then the boyfriend keeps coming up and SEEMS to be her primary motivation for her actions instead of all that stuff she’s coming to terms with about herself.  I mean look, Carter’s a nice enough dude, but I never had the sense that their relationship (one that’s only existed for like a day or so I guess?) was something she or the audience should care about more than… well HERSELF!  It’s not terrible, but it does undercut a lot of her character arc which is still strong due to Jessica Rothe who continues to prove what a phenomenal actor she is, but not nearly as interesting as it should have been.

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“It stands for ‘FILM My Life’, because I should be in more movies!”     “Makes sense to me!”

I’m probably a bit softer on this movie than I should be, but I just got caught up in the complete tonal shift and the overall charm this sequel has which is at least ONE way of making a passable sequel even if I would have preferred another good horror movie.  It SEEMS like the filmmakers don’t intend to make a third one which is absolutely the right call since this one was already straining to find a reason to exist, but I do recommend seeing it at some point.  MAYBE on the big screen if you were a fan of the first one AND you can get into the new direction they take it, but if you aren’t in that unique bit of overlap, then you might want to wait for the home release.  Now if they DO decide to make a third one, let me just throw this out there.  We’ve already covered Groundhog’s Day and Back to the Future Part 2.  Maybe the next one will be a take on 12 Monkeys?  Yeah, Tree has to stop the apocalypse or something!  Wait, that’s what 12 Monkeys was about, right?

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