‘Geostorm’ Review: What a Disaster
No one goes to a movie called Geostorm to see Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess talk seriously about their childhoods. No one cares in the slightest whether Sturgess’ bureaucrat will be able to go public about his relationship with a Secret Service agent, even though their love is against the law or the rules or something. No one pays $15 to watch Gerard Butler pretend he knows how to hack a computer. They pay for the geostorms! Where are the geostorms?
This is what is so baffling about Geostorm. Not that it’s bad; of course it’s bad. It’s the way it’s bad that makes no sense. It’s not a bad movie filled with a lot of ridiculous disaster sequences where cities are leveled and people manage to outrun tornados made of fire or tsunamis the size of skyscrapers. I mean, yes, eventually Geostorm becomes that kind of bad movie, but only in the last 20 minutes. That’s when the screens lining all of the film’s cheapo futuristic sets that read “TIME TO GEOSTORM” with ticketing countdown clocks (yes, clocks plural, there are many of them) finally get down to zero and Geostorm unleashes a bunch of hilariously absurd weather effects while Gerard Butler tries to parkour space walk his way out of an exploding space station. This is the bad movie Geostorm should be. It is delightfully terrible.
The 90-odd minutes before that are a different kind of terrible; the kind that makes you question your decision to travel 45 minutes to a theater in Bayonne, New Jersey at 9:45 on a Thursday night to watch the directorial debut of Dean Devlin, one half of the writing team that gave us Stargate, Independence Day, and the bad Godzilla with Matthew Broderick. Devlin’s work behind the camera here makes it immediately clear why he spent the previous 25 years of his career not directing things. Geostorm is so punishingly bad it makes Independence Day: Resurgence look like Last Year at Marienbad. (Or at least its less well-known sequel, Last Year at Marienbad: Resurgence.)
Butler and Sturgess play brothers Jake and Max Lawson. Jake helped create what’s known as “Dutch Boy,” a system of satellites and space stations that control the Earth’s weather. Max is the guy at the U.S. State Department in charge of maintaining it. Dutch Boy was built by a team of scientists from 17 different countries and now, after a period where it was solely controlled by the United States, the President (Andy Garcia) is about to hand over Dutch Boy to an international oversight committee. And wouldn’t you know it: That’s the moment ol’ Dutch Boy starts murdering people, creating deadly weather mishaps like a flash freeze in the middle of Afghanistan that wipes out an entire village. With this big deadline looming, Max recruits Jake, who was fired years earlier for insubordination, to return to Dutch Boy and figure out what’s going wrong.
If only Hollywood had a Jake they could send to movies to figure them out when they go wrong. Geostorm could have used him. He would have diagnosed a major structural problem. Instead of giving the people what they want — geofreakingstorms — this movie is mostly about people arguing about trivial nonsense, looking very seriously at computer screens, and arguing about trivial nonsense while looking very seriously at computer screens. At least 15 percent of the movie is Gerard Butler in a space conference room, making futuristic FaceTime calls back to Earth for updates on the search for a possible traitor inside the U.S. government. There’s all this mystery around who this traitor could be and why they are sabotaging Dutch Boy. It takes these two geniuses two hours to figure out something that everyone in the audience will guess by the very first scene in the White House Situation Room.
Based on what is onscreen (and, more importantly, what is not, i.e. more geostorms), it seems as if Devlin did not have the budget to achieve his vision of a world beset by an ecological nightmare. (The “geostorm” of the title is a bunch of simultaneous weather catastrophes so large and so devastating that they wipe out civilization.) Some of the effects in space are fine, but a lot of the earthbound ones look more like outtakes from a Syfy Channel Original than a major Hollywood picture.
It’s not all bad, though. Or at least there are some parts that are so bad they’re kind of good. I love that Devlin has the audacity (or total indifference) to create three separate sequences where people run from weather, including one where a woman in a bikini stumbles down a blind alley go get away from a wall of cold. Will she run out of room before it gets kind of cold? (SPOILER ALERT: Devlin cuts away before we find out. Also, a plane almost falls on her.)
There’s also a scene where Ed Harris randomly pulls a rocket launcher from the truck of a limousine. (It doesn’t make much more sense in context.) At one point, a bolt of lightning strikes a large civic convention center and the entire building instantly explodes. I’m not a physicist, but I’m not completely sure that’s how lightning or explosions work. (Someone ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’ll know.) Also, this network of satellites designed to control weather includes a gigantic Bond-villain-style death ray; literally a huge laser that obliterates things from space. I get trying to seed clouds or dissipate tornados, but exactly what practical purpose did the death ray serve? It just seems like a bad idea to have that hanging around.
I cannot stress enough that I do not recommend you see Geostorm, but I kind of hope you do just so I can have some help trying to comprehend the basic flow of events in the final act of the movie. On a fundamental level, I’m not even sure whether Dutch Boy is preventing the Geostorm or the only thing stopping it from happening. Sometimes the characters seem worried about what will happen if Dutch Boy is destroyed, and other times they seem to argue that destroying it is the only way to save Earth. Either way, it grows more and more unstable, and the TIME TO GEOSTORM draws nigh. Max must retrieve some kill codes that are the only way to shut down the satellite before it destroys the world. Okay. Then the space station that controls the satellite is sabotaged by our mystery traitor and begins to self-destruct, and the heroes have to try to prevent that. Wouldn’t the station’s self-destruction also destroy the satellites connected to it, and therefore end the threat of a Geostorm? I guess not?
Most of this movie is a slog, but the final act, where one hero makes a selfless sacrifice to save the planet but then survives anyway in a series of events so preposterous they make the rest of Geostorm look like a nature documentary, achieves a kind of transcendent idiocy. Amidst the world being ripped apart by tidal waves, tornados, and death lasers, while the Dutch Boy station goes haywire in outer space, our intrepid hero screams “Hopefully someone sees us! Fingers crossed!” I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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