Movie review: Geostorm

Well, folks, I did it. I saw the worst movie I’ve ever seen. During the last five-ish minutes of GEOSTORM, someone says, “See if one of the [space] shuttles can turn around.” YES. A Space Shuttle that can just come about real quick and pick up Our Hero. Who has taken refuge in a weather satellite and is signalling “Mayday” in morse code using the manual thrusters on the satellite. Because that’s all stuff that can happen. GEOSTORM (you have to say it in caps) is so bad, it makes San Andreas look good. After the night I’ve had, I would love to watch San Andreas again. After this movie, I’d watch Lockout again, and I haaaated Lockout.

So, first of all, because I know you’re all concerned: Gerard Butler is speaking in his standard Tortured American dialect. (In my dad’s words, “It’s like he swallowed a Scotsman, who is trying to get out.”) However! Gerry does say at one point that he and his brother were “born in the UK,” like that helps.

GEOSTORM is a Monster Mash for every natural disaster/we-need-to-save-the-world-with-science trope for the last twenty years. Day After Tomorrow meets Armaggedon meets Deep Impact meets Battleship meets Independence Day and yes, I know those last two involve aliens. I cannot tell you how much I wished for aliens, sitting in that theater. These films are their own genre at this point, with their own curve to grade on. This one can’t even climb on to the low end.

GEOSTORM stars Gerard Butler, doing absolutely not what he does best. The ensemble cast really commits, which would be great, except they’re bland and forgettable and have no individual characterizations. Except for Andy Garcia and Ed Harris, who are “the President of the United States, but not universally hated and played by Andy Garcia,” and “Ed Harris in all these movies,” respectively.

Remember how Darren Aronofsky said Mother! was an allegory for environmentalism? This movie halfheartedly tries to brush up against philosophical questions about “playing god,” but in the world of GEOSTORM, playing god is the only way to save everyone because we’ve wrecked the planet, but it’s fine, because we have a net of satellites that somehow stops things on an event-by-event basis. Instead of, I don’t know, cooling down the planet on a regular basis? 

The satellite network, called Dutchboy–I think it’s one word, the kerning in the onscreen location announcements was as badly designed as everything else–is what keeps the planet from devolving into massive weather events that kill people. Yes! Human beings figured out a way to control the weather! By firing tiny little torpedoes of weather into the atmosphere and… convincing the weather to stop? Distracting it? Listening to its problems with compassion and respect? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. (Nor was anyone who worked on this film. I’m not sure, given how they talked about encryption and viruses, that anyone who worked on it has touched a computer before. Maybe this movie was written entirely on cuneiform tablets!)

This movie learned about science from watching other movies. The ISS has ballooned in only maybe fifteen years from our present day into a space complex with full gravity that supports six hundred people and is a command station for the network of thousands and thousands of different kinds of satellites protecting our world. I’m not a demanding audience. Really, truly. I’ll watch all kinds of dreck. But much of the force of epic natural disaster movies, especially ones that are trying as hard as ever they can to Make A Point, comes from verisimilitude. The US doesn’t currently have a working Space Shuttle or the infrastructure necessary to produce one! Could we have traded out one truly vacuous argument between brothers about who gets to order who around for a little bit of back story about where we suddenly got all this science from?

GEOSTORM presents Dutchboy as a vast, international effort–seventeen countries! They say that about half a dozen times, and yet I wasn’t sure what the non-Gerard Butler Lawson brother’s name was–as something that happened nearly overnight.

“We have engineers here. And coders. And builders.”
–Some words spoken by a human in this movie.

Whoever zapped this poor corpse of a script with special effects lightning until it began lumbering around, terrorizing the countryside, has a lot to answer for.

For one thing, no one seems to understand emotional stakes. When the stakes are “The satellite network we rely on to continue living on this planet is malfunctioning and targeting populated areas with horrifying weather events that kill people,” I really couldn’t care less about whether the Lawson brothers are going to forgive each other for some bizarre weirdness involving a job and a senate subcommittee and their family issues. Or whether the younger brother will get to marry his Secret Service agent girlfriend, who somehow he lives with, even though they’re not allowed to date because of her job. But seriously. I don’t care. The weather is killing people. Get your priorities straight.

The politics of who the movie decides to kill to make a point and who it leaves alive, but damaged, and who it doesn’t show being damaged at all, are interesting, from a meta, America-centric perspective. But not very interesting. As bland and eyeroll-inducing and predictable as the rest of the movie. They make an effort at background diversity, then treat POC much worse than the white characters. And all the main characters are white. How has this gotten worse in the last twenty years?

I can’t go into all the plot holes and inconsistencies and WHO CARES?! moments in this movie. I love myself more than that. But honorable mention must be made to the giant countdown clock, a self-destruct sequence on the ISS, a boy and his dog surviving the terrible tragedy, a father keeping his promise to his daughter to “come home,” TWO leaden voiceovers about climate change, an unexamined drinking problem, and Richard Schiff.

There were a couple of things that weren’t terrible. Or could have not been terrible, in a better movie.

Thing one: Gerard Butler’s inexplicable casting could have worked! He isn’t usually booked as a super-nerd, in wrestling terms. That’s not his thing, you know? All action stars have their things. But for all that, the best parts of the movie are when he is alone, giddy with joy that he’s going back into space, being reunited with this global weather satellite network that he built. It’s the only time the movie connects emotionally at all. When the main character is completely alone. That’s a good sign!

But his character is so mishandled. We’re given to believe that this brilliant scientific and engineering mind who is personally credited with saving the world gets fired from a job he loves–LOVES–more than anything, and just slumps into a stupor, instead of, I don’t know, founding a tech company and continuing to work on the problems facing the planet on his own. He’s souping up electric cars for retirees, not working for an NGO while making hundreds of millions of dollars in consulting fees? He’s all bent out of shape about answering to his younger brother instead of leaping at the chance to get his hands on his mutant mechanical space brain-baby again? That does not sound like any of the engineers I know, or any of the engineers you know, or any of the engineers ever.

Thing two: I choked up a little when I saw a shot of what Cape Canaveral looks like in this world–row upon row of Space Shuttles on booster rockets, ready to go into space, with so many flags on the side of each shuttle.

Those two things were in the same minute of screen time. Maybe two minutes. The movie was one hour and forty-nine minutes long. So there you go. Every choice they made was wrong. Every single one.

It’s really bad. It’s a void where a film ought to have been. Not for any flaw in particular. Just irrepressible, inexorable badness. And watching the onscreen death of millions of people is kind of depressing, honestly. Right now more than ever.