Movie Review: ‘Geostorm’ is the environmental disaster action thriller you didn’t know you wanted, in spaaaaace!
Director: Dean Devlin
Writers: Dean Devlin, Paul Guyot
Stars: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish
Synopsis: When the network of satellites designed to control the global climate starts to attack Earth, it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide Geostorm wipes out everything and everyone.
In case you were not aware, I’m British. This tends to mean that along with a slight sense of guilt over abusing indigenous peoples for a few hundred years, and mediocre dental work, we’re obsessed with the weather.
If you are ever visiting our soggy little island and wish to strike up a conversation with a local, starting with a line like “Lovely day today, wasn’t it?” or “I’ve heard it’s going to rain at the weekend” will be an instant icebreaker. Think of this as a top tip if you’d like to chat up a Brit, but a couple of words of warning: 1) once you’ve opened the weather gambit, you may not actually be able to get said Briton to shut up again and 2) as mentioned above, mediocre dental work.
Weather is Britain’s other national obsession after, of course, the addiction to tea. We love talking about the weather, trying to predict the weather, complaining about the weather, enjoying the weather and discussing whether the weather will disrupt the village fete/cricket match/Mrs Miggin’s Pie Festival (delete as appropriate). One national newspaper has published so many insane weather stories on its front page, it’s developed its own brand of satire….
Which is all a bit weird as the British weather can be summed up thus: not too hot, not too cold, usually wet.
We’re so comfortable in this happy little zone that we’ve developed a clothing style that seems odd to the rest of the world. It is not unusual to see a Briton in October in a pair of shorts paired with a waterproof jacket. He’s not confused, it’s just that it’s not that cold. Europeans from warmer countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy visiting in October stare in amazement at this odd sight, sometimes muttering lines like: “But it’s 10° C (50F), why is he in shorts?” failing to realize that it is not unheard of for our peak summer temperature to only hit 20°C (68F). And it’d still be raining.
Also this sort of bloody-mindedness really annoys the French, and if the British like doing anything, it’s winding up the French.
This predictibility of our weather makes our obsession with it even odder, but also ensures that stuff about the weather is BIG business in the UK. We have whole prime time TV series devoted to “The Great British Weather” (five hours explaining how rain is good), examinations of “Britain’s Wildest Weather” (basically not too hot, not too cold, bit wet, bit blowy), the Radio4 Shipping forecast is a national institution that celebrated its 150th Birthday this year and has been the inspiration for songs, poetry and comedy. Even odder, our weather presenters become national celebrities identified by first name only – that’s right: Kanye, Beyonce, Carol. Our weather is so bland and predictable that we have to remember back to times we got caught out by slightly different weather: Every year we remember “The Great Storm”, mainly so they can trot out ancient video footage of weatherman Michael Fish (currently performing in a national comedy tour – I s*** you not) assurring the country that there wasn’t a hurricane on the way, the day before a hurricane hit the county of Kent causing ‘widespread damage’ of the kind that Puerto Ricans currently would only scoff at, but, hilariously, reducing the titular number of trees in the town of Sevenoaks to one.
This last event, a combination of cock-up and weather report, was deemed so quintessentially British, we included it the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. You know, just before we had the Queen jump from a helicopter…
All this probably explains why I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the screening of Gerard Butler’s latest movie practically full. Britons are obsessed with the weather, the weather makes us miserable, lets watch a film where the weather makes Americans miserable instead. What could be more fun?
As it turns out, pretty much anything else, including wearing shorts in the October drizzle.
According to Geostorm, sometime in the very near future, Earth’s weather will go wrong with increasingly terrible storms, flooding, and extreme freezing and thawing events. The situation gets worse and worse until the World’s scientists team up to create a network of satellites called Dutch Boy that control the weather. These satellites are positioned into a physical net that covers the whole world and are maintained and serviced by an orbiting space station and manned by a nicely multi-racial crew from the international community that is serviced by a fleet of space shuttles.
And all is well with the world for a number of years until a UN patrol comes across unexpected flash-freezing event in the surprisingly sandy deserts of Afghanistan causing a number of unfortunate peasants to come over all Robert-Patrick-at-the-end-of-Terminator-2. The US covers up this error, declaring it a computer glitch and the world is none the wiser, despite the UN discovery of the issue in the first place (I know).
Cue the man who devised and built Dutch Boy, Jake Lawson, to be called back to Washington to shout at the West Wing’s Toby Ziegler for character purposes and get fired. Which is helpful as the US, who apparently paid for and built the Dutch Boy network, are coming to the internationally agreed point in time where they hand over ownership of the network to the international community, despite the network being maintained and run by the international community on the Space Station (I know). To piss off our glowering Scot a bit more, his job is taken by his younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess – bland).
So Gerard heads off to Florida to retire, but more weather events keep occurring and finally an expendable Indian scientist dies on the Space Station so the US President (Andy Garcia) decides to solve the issue rather than hand over a broken system.
Max, knowing how the game is played, wants to send a team of people. He’s the good cop, the sensible cop. But Garcia knows better, he wants only one man to keep the investigation small and unobtrusive. He wants the older brother. Jake’s back in the game!
So Gerard goes back to the space station on his own to investigate and is immediately introduced to the team with who he will work to solve the stations problems (I know, bear with). While Max gets cold feet back on Earth, especially when he shares his deepening suspicions with Secret Service agent/girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish) – the relationship they must keep secret because it is against the rules. Ignoring his small team, Jake enlists the entire space station (I know, look, it’s that kind of film) to check stuff and discovers sabotage, Max uncovers the plot behind the sabotage and cue action, adventure and all that good stuff.
A few of you may have noticed something about the plot synopsis above – namely the absence of a Geostorm. Okay, let’s deal with that up front: There isn’t one. Geostorm, the movie, doesn’t actually contain a Geostorm, the event.
A Geostorm is explained by one expendable Asian actor as a combination of self-sustaining weather events across the globe. Max is the only one that understands what this means, but that doesn’t stop the film from having every other character immediately understand what a Geostorm is the moment they first hear the name. They even have computer graphics for it.
This is the start of a slippery logical slope that, if we went down it, we’d never end this review. So, for the sake of our sanity lets just say that the science, in fact the general plausibility, of this film is complete and utter bunkum. From the need to physically connect orbiting satellites with rods into a rigid net, to the requirement to have space shuttles land on wheels when docking with a space station, to the satellites seeming to be a kind of module in a much larger array, to the weather controlling apparatus itself, to the shuttles on set having a rear-mounted loading door for actor access, but the CGI ones in space having rear mounted engines, everything, and I do mean everything, is unexplained nonsense.
Gerard Butler is Jake, and he’s a manly man. He’s so manly he’s unshaven, tells authority to piss off, he’s tough on his daughter, and split up from her mom. He drinks beer, owns a muscle car, wakes up late and looks great in a jump suit. He’s impetuous, acts first, asks questions later. He once punched a senator in the face. He’s here to kick ass and chew gum, and he’s all outta gum. America, F***-Yeah!
Sorry, I got carried away there. If that sounds like an in-depth character analysis, it is, but I didn’t get that from this film. Butler’s Jake is a flim-flam construct of every action movie hero cliche you’ve ever seen, but with the added implausibility of him being an astronaut. And engineer. Butler, a macho actor brilliantly referred to by the BBC’s Mark Kermode as “Shouty Buttwad”, is a gruff, charming man, but he has no character at all to work with. Jake is a bullet-point construction, the audience expected to fill in the gaps where the script can’t be bothered to. It’s so lazy, and so boring.
Jim Sturgess’ Max is exactly the same, a cut-n-paste straight guy character you have seen a bazillion times before. He’s in love with a girl but he can’t tell anyone, he follows the rules until he realises that others aren’t playing by them, he persuades his girl to break her code for love and together they clean up this town. Yeehah!
Sorry, sorry, sorry, I was off again.
We’ve the straight-laced Secret Service agent girlfriend who plays everything by the book. We’ve got the supportive old codger who’s seen it all before (Ed Harris’ Dekkom), we’ve got the spunky, punky rebellious girl hacker who can break into anything (Zazie Beetz’ Dana – Good). If you haven’t seen the pictures of these characters yet allow me to describe them – Cornish looks like Sarah Walker from Chuck, Ed Harris looks like Frank Horrigan from In the Line of Fire, and Zazie Beetz looks like Ramsey from Fast and the Furious. And guess what? They are exactly the same characters too.
The plot is likewise a feeble construct of recycled ideas smashed together in the hope that something will stick. We have freezing weather events (The Day after Tomorrow), earthquakes (2012, San Andreas), tidal waves (Deep Impact) and a heat laser (err… Die Another Day). In all cases these are deployed exactly as in the films they have been stolen from, and in the case of the heat laser it even feels like they’ve nicked the same special effect. Stitching the weather issues together we have a space station which suffers some mishaps (Gravity), Space Shuttles (Armageddon) and treacherous intrigue in locker rooms (ok, you got me here, but it feels familiar). On Earth we have threats to the president (The Manchurian Candidate, In the Line of Fire), cars racing away from earthquake cracks and lava (Volcano, Dante’s Peak), and skulduggery in the White House (Air Force One). Underlying it all we have a critical system, essential to protecting life on earth, but someone wants it to fail (Sunshine, The Core). Who could be so dastardly, and why?
The whole thing feels like a first draft that somehow got greenlit, as if the producers asked for a possible concept for a flick and when presented with the script equivalent of a mood-board simply said “That’s perfect, let’s get filming”.
Geostorm is played absolutely seriously most of the time. I think it thinks it’s a thriller, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone involved actually cares. The actors have so little to work with: they are doing their best, but they are clearly not committed. Ed Harris gets a notable mention here for trying to draw something out of stale pool of his character, but it’s beyond him. There’s irritating glimmers of promise, the odd decent line, some comedic interplay, hints of brotherly bonhomie, Abbie Cornish’s strict bad-assery, but that’s all it is, glimmers. Brief hints. They cannot put a dent the in the sheer mountain of issues this film suffers from.
It’s not even a pitable mess, as it looks hugely expensive. The special effects in the space scenes are extremely good and the Space Station sets are vast, detailed and interesting. It looks great to be honest, but only the space bits. The rest is just dull dull dull. There’s no visual interest, it’s not very pretty, it looks like a poor TV movie. The car chase at the end of the film is simply awful. One of the ugliest action sequences I think I have ever seen. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a Mercedes taxi be chased in a freeway underpass…
We can’t pity anyone really as all of the flaws of this film should have been obvious when the script, if it remotely resembled the one in the finished film, was first presented. Stories from the troubled production imply there is an even worse version out there than this. I hope we never get to see it.
I also cringed at the sheer crassness of everything. The climax sees Dubai get hit by a tidal wave, Rio hit by an ice storm-tidal wave thingy, Mumbai get hit by tornadoes, and Moscow by a heat ray. Millions dead, colossal disaster, humanitarian catastrophe, but everyone at NASA are in tears for the loss of one man in orbit (#spoilernotaspoiler). There’s an unpleasant racist undercurrent that bubbles along through out the film – ethnic characters are killed off, but white guys save the day. Mumbai gets flattened, Hong Kong blown up, Dubai drowned, Tokyo pelted, Rio … actually I don’t know what the f*** happened to Rio, but the only white city we see affected was Moscow – presumably because no-one likes Russians. Oh, and Devlin has to save the bloody dog. Again.
I spent huge parts of my time watching this through my fingers. I wasn’t remotely annoyed with the 12 year old got bored and asked his Mom “Why are they doing that?” Eliciting the beautiful response from his mother: “I really don’t know”. I wasn’t annoyed with the lady next to me gave up and began viewing Facebook. That usually really annoys me, but this time, I wanted to be looking at Facebook. I wanted to leave. I wanted to be doing anything else than watch this film.
It is dull, unoriginal, insultingly stupid and bereft of almost all entertainment value.