I recently earned a certificate from Cornell University and the University of Queensland for shark biology, behavior, and conservation through edX. I learned many new things I didn’t know about sharks, from getting a better grasp on how their sense of electroreception works, how sharks, rays and chimeras differ and how they’re the same, and the fascinating behaviors of everything from ratfish to the staple of marine biology class rooms, the dogfish.
It did not prepare me for Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens.
Actually, scratch that. It taught me to recognize the biodiversity of the sharks present in the film. A remarkable diversity of sharks, from the smalltooth sawfish, to goblin and leopard sharks, and the venerable great whites, tigers, makos, and hammerheads all rain down elasmobranchian apocalypse on America again in this fourth installment of the Sharknado franchise. Seriously, in the 2 hours of Sharknado 4, there was more variety of sharks present than on Night 3 of this year’s Shark Week. Happy accident, or is The Asylum taking scientific criticism to heart more than Discovery Communications? It should also be noted that there are for more POC and female scientists featured in Sharknado 4 than on Shark Week. It’s not just the sharks that are diverse.
But look, this ain’t the BBC and Richard Attenborough isn’t narrating this. You’re here for two things: sharks and chainsaws, and the movie delivers. I’m a fan of SyFy’s creature features, and the ones that have a sense of humor about them are generally the best, and oddly, many of these feature sharks (the Megashark series, the Sharktopus movies, and of course, Sharknado). As I noted in my interview with director Anthony C. Ferrante, the movie is unapologetic, unabashed fun, just don’t ask too many questions. Questions like: How do my recent studies into chondrichthyes apply to this movie?
My girlfriend — no fan of sharks, no fan of monster movies, and no fan of pop culture for pop culture’s sake — sat down with me to watch the screener, expecting only to be there for a minute to thieve some the popcorn I made, and was pulled in by the first 15 minutes we spend in Las Vegas and when the opening credits rolled, she turned to me and said, with no small incredulity: “Wait, we’re just getting to the credits? Seriously?”
This brings up an important requirement to get the full Sharknado experience: It’s an amusement park, and, like any amusement park, sure, you can go by yourself — but Sharknado 4 is an experience best shared, so either keep your social media feeds nearby or watch it with friends. There are more than a few times you’ll say “Who the hell is that?” and “OK, that’s not possible!” and you’ll want explanation or confirmation. I’m looking at you, boulder sharks and nuclear sharks (nuclear sharks are a thing here).
With all the cameos in the film, and references to other television shows and films great and small, you’ll need to (1) have at least an associate’s degree in American Pop Culture and (2) an ability to keep up. They don’t last long, and some of them are so obscure and momentary you’ll miss them if you blink. From Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (who won’t do anything about the inversions that plague Salt Lake City but is ON IT when it comes to sharknadoes) to Carrot Top to multiple Hasselhoffs, they’re in this movie. At some point, you begin to question your reality. Go to the grocery store right after the movie. You’ll be seeing celebrity cameos in the cereal aisle, my friend.
CARROT TOP DIES!!!!
Ian Ziering (Fin Shepherd) is his usual fun presence in the film, as is the returning David Hasselhoff (Gil Shepherd). Their combination of action movie hero and cornball schmaltz makes you root for the heroes (and I’ll always root for David Hasselhoff – I had Knight Rider pajamas as a kid, and I never missed an episode, plus his turn as the evil “Garth” from Knight Rider is still my favorite way to stump trivia nerds).
Tara Reid is vexing. When she’s doing the intense “I’m a badass superheroine here to save you” parts, she completely sells the intensity. For the more intimate scenes, the delivery gets a little dry. Not unpalatably so, but enough where it draws a contrast between the badass April Wexler and shrinking violet April Wexler. You’ve basically got Iron Man. No need to hide that.
Tommy Davidson to me is the standout in the film as Ashton Reynolds steals the film for me though. He’s the exact combination of ruthless businessman and genial tech weirdo that this franchise needed (and dammit, there’s an homage to another shark film that I can’t spoil, but let me know in the comments if you spotted it).
So maybe I wasn’t able to apply my knowledge of shark conservation to this film like I have for The Shallows or Shark Week, I had a great time watching it. And to the wags out there, you dismiss this as not being Shakespeare … Well no duh. Not everything has to be Shakespeare. When you go on a roller coaster, you don’t care about the physics of why you don’t fall out of your seat or get flung off into oblivion, you just care that you’re having a good time, and you don’t necessarily want to sit through a science lecture after getting back to the parking lot. So don’t be that guy.
Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens delivers what it promises, and in this day and age, that’s honesty we all need.