It's worth starting off by saying that Point Break (2015) didn't need to work especially hard to justify its existence, at least with me.
Despite the internet hand-wringing, remakes do not have to be bad. It's not a rule.
Some of the best genre movies of all time have been remakes — Carpenter's take on The Thing is rightfully considered a classic, as is Cronenberg's reimagining of The Fly. Zack Snyder, love him or hate him, took one of the most beloved horror movies of all time and made something fierce and distinctive with Dawn of the Dead. Even last year's reboot of Robocop wasn't completely without worth, offering some fairly pointed allegory toward combat wounded and post traumatic stress. Point Break wasn't primed for re-mining, exactly, but the movie has found a recent second life in Rocky Horror-style theatre screenings and post-ironic appreciation in movies like Hot Fuzz, so it isn't exactly surprising that a remake is here.
We'll stop there with the mitigation, though, because Point Break is a disaster.
The plot has a similar arc to the original — an FBI agent named Johnny (Luke Bracey) infiltrates a tight-knit group of extreme sports athletes on a hunch that they're responsible for a series of daring, global, public robberies. This makes sense, because Johnny is himself a former extreme sports athlete who quit that world after a completely preventable and agonizingly stupid personal tragedy to join an FBI that was, apparently, totally cool with a legendarily irresponsible late 20-something as an applicant.
The original Point Break's premise wasn't smart — an FBI agent learns to surf in order to discover the identity of a team of bank robbers operating in Los Angeles — but it was self-aware. It acknowledged its ridiculousness via every character on the side of "law and order," while still treating the material with respect. This new Point Break, helmed by Ericson Core, cinematographer on the original Fast & Furious, can't even manage that. It is self-serious at all times, espousing a strange GoPro-era extreme sports spirituality that contradicts itself as it writes checks it can't cash. Where Patrick Swayze's Bodhi in the 1991 film sought to set an example of resistance to society, albeit in a corny way, Edgar Ramirez's take on the character is laconically trying to literally save the planet with extreme sports and robberies.
It's only fair to make direct comparisons between the two films because Core and co seemed so determined to do so. While the 2015 film initially seems to loosely share a premise and positions itself to go a different way, it aggressively references the previous film in the most superficial manner possible. A high-rise robbery is committed on dirt bikes, the robbers wearing helmets with the faces of Obama and other recent presidents on them (after which the robbers crash through the windows and parachute to the ground, because yes, it's that kind of movie).
This is indicative of the film's less-than-superficial comprehension of the original film — they were the "Ex Presidents," remember? As of this writing, and Point Break's release, Obama is still in the White House. I don't worship the 1991 film, but the way this new version references the original feels craven, like a shameless, cynical ploy to capitalize on goodwill towards the "franchise." Whenever Core navigates his Point Break towards new ground, the heavens and the earth move (sometimes literally) to work in callback to the original. I don't want to spoil the movie out of my own sense of dogma, but every element a note-for-note remake would need to hit is here, from the obvious to the "there is a tough father-figure character for Utah named Pappas." Except now Pappas is British, I think, played by sadly underutilized Ray Winstone.
In the most self-conscious way possible, Point Break takes every reference to the original and adds a ham-fisted twist on it. Sometimes this is just slightly jarring; this time, Utah is blond, and Bodhi is dark-haired! Kathryn Bigelow painted a picture of a very specific, insular subculture in 1991. Core never seems to figure out who his — we'll charitably call them "enigmatic" — antagonists are, other than European GoBros who do all the extreme sports and also participate in underground fight clubs while partying on yachts and villas with Steve Aoki DJ'ing.
I am not exaggerating. I have left out the surfing in the middle of the ocean, wing suiting and snowboarding. I'm doing the movie a mild disservice here, I admit, because many of these sequences involve some jaw-dropping cinematography and execution. This occasionally elevated Point Break to watchable, but then people started talking, and my brain protested again. There is, literally, a point in the movie where the characters talk about reaching the "point break." The original movie was called "Point Break" because it's a particularly long lasting wave that surfers like. Here, a character helpfully explains, it's "the point at which you break."
Make no mistake, stupid is the air that Point Break breathes. If you thought the FBI infiltrating a surfer coven was silly, I dare you to sit through a climbing chase up a sheer cliff face in South America that lasts about six minutes. Point Break demands not just the suspension of disbelief but the expulsion of it to sit through it without leaving the theater feeling dumber than you entered it.