I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of what Hollywood often does with sci fi
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Who was it who said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it”? Well, we showed that guy! After the catastrophic weather year of 2019 (which apparently made 2017 look like a pleasantly warm and breezy day), we — that is, humanity — “fought back” against, I guess, ourselves and the climate disasters we brought upon our planet, by launching a network of weather-control satellites covering the entire globe, and operated from a newly supercool International Space Station, which has a big wheel and gravity and factories to make more satellites, and which houses the 600 scientists who make it all go.
According to Geostorm, the best way to make this indubitably impossible feat happen in only three years is to put Gerard Butler (London Has Fallen, Gods of Egypt) in charge. Because, sure, he’s totally plausible as the guy who is simultaneously capable of 1) designing the entire system, 2) leading an international multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers to build and run the thing, and 3) being a lone-wolf hotshot who won’t take orders and resorts to violence to get his way. (CV: “Rogue badass and project leader.”) Oh, but never mind! Now he’s off the project, after the politicians in charge decide that punching some dude in the face is neither good safety protocol nor conducive to international cooperation.
No, but wait, he’s back again! Because a few years later, something is going horrible wrong with “Dutchboy,” as everyone calls the system: instead of making the weather nice, it’s making the weather deadly. And who else is going to be able to fix the damn thing but the unconventional genius they probably should never have fired? Or might it be that there is some sort of secret scheme of sabotage and political maneuvering going on just as the United States is about to hand over management of Dutchboy to the UN? (Wait: Dutchboy was built by the whole world but America has been controlling it? How did that happen?) Might someone in Washington DC or on the ISS see some diplomatic benefit to “accidentally” icing a desert village in Afghanistan or superheating gas mains Hong Kong until they blow up half the city?
No spoilers, but if this were the cheapo made-for-Syfy junk it should have been, it might have been titled Conspiranado. Instead, this is mega-budget high-profile studio junk that somehow attracted a cast of luminaries including Andy Garcia (Passengers, Ghostbusters) (as the President of the United States), Ed Harris (mother!, Run All Night) (as the US Secretary of State), and — in one-scene cameos that would be criminal if the movie weren’t so dreadful, but I understand why they’d want to minimize their appearances here — Richard Schiff (playing a sort of evil version of his beloved West Wing character Toby Ziegler) and Mare Winningham (Philomena, Mirror Mirror), with just one line of dialogue, and a throwaway at that. The presence of other younger talents is equally mysterious: Abbie Cornish (RoboCop, Seven Psychopaths) as a Secret Service agent often cannot hide her incredulity at the things her character is required to say; Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, One Day) as a DC honcho and Butler’s brother seems to have resolved to simply smirk his way through his every scene, including the ones in which it is entirely inappropriate, like when discussing the possible destruction by extreme weather of major cities.
Tsunamis in Dubai, hailstorms in Tokyo, lightning in Orlando. Geostorm doesn’t even give good disaster porn: it’s CGI cartoonish and mostly doesn’t involve characters we care about. One catastrophe, in Rio de Janeiro, hopes we’ll be invested in whether an anonymous lady in a bikini will survive, though probably she was just an excuse to get some PG-rated near nudity onscreen, because we don’t actually learn whether she makes it out alive. (Another calamity in India imperils a small dog — and also tens of thousands of humans, but mostly one small dog — and we are eventually assured of the small dog’s safety. So we know where Geostorm’s priorities lie.)
Perhaps the movie’s cleverest trick is that it never makes us care about any of the characters. It tries, it really does. But with the entirety of human civilization at stake, it’s difficult to care whether Butler’s and Sturgess’s estranged brothers will reconcile by the end of the movie. Butler’s teenaged daughter (Talitha Bateman: Annabelle: Creation, The 5th Wave) seems pretty cool, but she’s literally nothing more than a tacky talisman to humanize him: “Millions of people are gonna die,” he grumbles at one point, “and one of them is my daughter.” Thank god he has fathered some offspring, or the planet would be doomed.
And yet I have only scratched the surface of how almost hilariously terrible Geostorm is. This is a movie in which complex systems like Dutchboy’s can be magically manipulated, but only according to the needs of the plot (such as it is): computers will erase some vital bits of information but not others; some procedures must be performed manually, if it means that will maximize the danger to the hero. Mystery-solving minor characters leap from “I think something is going on” to “I’ve figured it all out!” in the space of a single cut, yet this does not save us from watching many people sitting at computers all over the world and up in orbit staring at code that has been production-designed in an attempt to make it intriguing. Butler’s and Sturgess’s brothers use an absurd sibling-code from their childhood to talk over a transmission that is being eavesdropped upon, a code so complex that is would be almost impossible to use on the fly, without a lot of preparation… and then the next time they talk via the same method, they speak openly, without any indication that the eavesdropping issue has been solved. The revelation of the villain — who must be supersmart in order to have pulled off what is happening here — revolves around the ol’ mentioning a name that s/he wouldn’t know if s/he weren’t evil. Because one ticking countdown to doom isn’t enough, we get two, including the one till “Geostorm,” the cascading weather disasters set off by the Dutchboy satellites that will utterly wreck the planet… which must have been thoughtfully programmed by the conspirators for the benefit of those trying to stop it, because it certainly wouldn’t have been part of Dutchboy’s original programming.
There is a special kind of stupid to Geostorm that almost makes one suspect that it’s deliberate. Why would Dean Devlin, the writer and producer of Stargate and Independence Day making his feature directorial debut, want to make humanity’s attempts to fix global warming look so ridiculous, so idiotic, so inherently prone to subversion that we would be fools to contemplate embarking upon such an endeavor? Does he know something we don’t know? Was he hinting at something with his previous work? Has he already sold us out to the aliens? I mean, if we are weakened and distracted as a species by hurricane after heatwave, we’re not gonna be able to put up much of a fight when ET comes for our water and/or to make us their slaves. I’m just sayin’…