Movie Review: Happy Death Day 2U
Happy Death Day 2U is a smart sequel: It leans on what worked in the first film while jettisoning the parts that didn’t. The only problem is that it pretty much requires the viewer to have seen and liked the original.
Here we are again. I’m all alone in a theater, paying money out of my own pocket (Good to see you hired MoviePass’ Customer Support Staff, Sinemia) to watch a film that I’m very leery about after having seen the trailers. Happy Death Day was a surprise… a fluke even. It took borrowed well worn plot lines, slapped a fresh coat of paint on them, and brazenly sold us a film that managed to be a very good time. I was dead certain a sequel was going to go back in time and wipe out that film’s goodwill. But having spent another hour and a half with Tree Gelbman, I’m a believer: Happy Death Day 2U is even more fun than the first.
The only caveat: this film moves so fast and assumes such familiarity that you’re not gonna get much out of Happy Death Day 2U if you haven’t seen Happy Death Day.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) escaped her constant cycle of death and is enjoying her new lease on life with Carter (Israel Broussard)… when Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phil Vu) breaks the bad news: now he’s stuck in a repeating cycle of getting murdered. Thankfully for him, Tree’s an expert at this. The new cycle brings with it some other bad news: the loop wasn’t some act of a vengeful God, it was a science experiment gone haywire. Ryan and his friends were working on quantum cooling, and the end result was a not so cool time loop. When the eggheads botch an attempt to close the loop, Tree finds herself back at square one, reliving her birthday from hell all over again.
We’re Caught in a Trap,
Happy Death Day 2U manages to use familiarity while dodging the contempt it tends to breed. The plot has enough new elements that reliving a day the audience had already seen 11 times before isn’t tedious. The sci-fi genesis of the loop is hand-wavy, but it gives some new philosophical elements for Tree to grapple with. Her torment wasn’t some cosmic justice or redemption plan, and she has to find a new meaning for her new meaning. It also creates a plot where Tree has some important choices to make: this new loop takes place in an alternate dimension (really going whole hog on the sci-fi), and her relationships have changed.
Instead of Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day 2U has decided to bite another famous time travel adventure: Back to the Future. The second one, specifically (they even name drop it for extra-brazenness). BthF 2 successfully riffed on the first movie while making the tropes it reuses seem just different enough to be fun. It’s exactly the same here. We get a Tree-dying-hilariously-montage, a mildly affecting personal twist, and a healthy dose of Jessica Rothe being both fiery and funny.
I Can’t Walk Out,
Besides an adjacent yet new plot, another way Happy Death Day 2U sells it’s premise is with a blistering pace. It never bogs down, and it is much more focused on fun than the first one (and that movie liked to have fun). Retreading so much content means the film can waste the bare minimum amount of time explaining people, places, or themes. This is going to leave first timers in the dust. A super fast, super snarky recap of Tree’s troubles is funny for fans of the first film, but will be woefully inadequate for newbies.
The upside of this decision is that it allows more time for Rothe to chew up the scenery. Which she does deliciously.
Because I Love You Too Much…
In my review of Happy Death Day, I favorably compared Jessica Rothe’s performance to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This time around, she reminded me of Batman. No, not the mopey one. The classic Adam West camp crusader. West was a master of staying in character while that character winked at the screen shamelessly. Rothe’s Tree does the same thing. She never breaks character, but the character is constantly tweaking the audience’s nose. It allows her to take the funny moments of the first film and crank them all the way up.
Her death montage in Happy Death Day was funny, an homage to Bill Murray hamming it up after discovering his temporal immortality. The one in Happy Death Day 2U is Deadpool levels of hilarity. She knows you’ve seen this trick before, so she just smiles in your face and sells it even harder. It had me laughing out loud.
The one thing some fans of the first are going to notice, and possibly have some contention with, is the utter lack of horror in this film. The Baby Slasher was by far the least interesting aspect of Happy Death Day, and the sequel pretty much forgets about him after the first 5 minutes. At the end of the movie Carter has to remind Tree: “Um, before you close the loop, shouldn’t we deal with the homicidal maniac?”. She pretty much blows him off, which is exactly what the Director wants the audience to do.
The killer was just a plot device for the interesting bits of the first film, and the sequel gets along just fine without him. There’s enough going on in Tree’s endless day that some pud in a doofy mask isn’t essential. That said, anyone who liked that the original was a fun-flavored horror movie are going to be upset that this film wants just about nothing to do with horror.
Satisfying a Suspicious Mind
The trailers made me believe that Happy Death Day 2U was going to fall squarely in the frivolous sequel category. The frivolity of this movie ended up being it’s strongest aspect. It let the writers and cast gamble with house money, and it fully embraced all the aspects that made the first film fun. It’s dumb fun, but it isn’t puerile, and there’s enough heart to keep you invested.
Speaking of investments, there’s a post credit teaser for a 3rd movie. Apparently they really like making these, and are hoping you enjoy paying for them. I’ll kick the tires for a third, as I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the first two. I wonder what time travel movie they’ll pilfer from this time?