It’s no surprise that digital tools proved self-destructive. Hollywood has always believed bigger is better, that raw spectacle is the only thing that reliably seduces people into the cinema. To tweak a famous line from one of the films that got us here: The studios were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
The disaster movie genre has been dead or dying for a while now, and we’ve reached the point in the grieving process where we’ve come to accept that something like this is going to be utterly defanged by CGI (shout out to the lifeless, plastic likes of “2012” and “San Andreas”), so you almost have to give “Geostorm” a little bit of credit: For a movie about the potentially destructive power of 21st-century technology, it sure is a convincing example of the potentially destructive power of 21st-century technology.
“Geostorm” is the logical (and hilariously illogical) conclusion to such shortsighted thinking. At a time when the world has become a disaster movie unto itself and our appetite for destruction is sated on a daily basis, a time when hurricanes repeatedly deprive millions of American citizens of their most basic needs, people don’t need to go to the multiplex to see waters rise and cities crumble. That’s problematic for Hollywood, where it’s custom to deal with a losing hand by raising the stakes rather than changing the game.
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So while Warner Bros. could have chosen not to make soulless popcorn shlock about killer weather, we have “Geostorm,” a pathetic wannabe blockbuster so absurdly excessive (and so excessively absurd) that it bears almost no resemblance to life on Earth. There’s nothing triggering about a tidal wave sweeping through Dubai, or a hyper-targeted lightning storm exploding a sports arena in Orlando. These things are about as believable as the “Hong Kong” street that blisters apart because of an extreme heatwave. (Studio execs, take note: A few million dollars’ worth of neon doesn’t change the fact that downtown Kowloon looks absolutely nothing like a soundstage in Louisiana.) In a movie where Gerard Butler plays the satellite designer who singlehandedly solved global warming, it’s hard to believe that the story even takes place on our planet, let alone cares about how it’s destroyed.
Butler, an actor who delivers every line of dialogue with his entire face, is Jake Lawson, an engineer who saved the world before “Geostorm” even starts. In 2019, Lawson spearheaded the “Dutch Boy” project, a system of satellites that covers the Earth like a net and keeps the weather in check. What could go wrong? Or, more specifically, what could go wrong in addition to calling the single most important invention of all time “Dutch Boy?”
Cut to three years later: Something goes wrong. An Afghani village in the middle of the desert has been frozen solid. And since “Geostorm” takes place in a fantasy world where the President of the United States actually gives a shit about people of color, foreign or domestic, POTUS (Andy Garcia) orders Jake out of his semi-alcoholic stupor and up into space. The plot thickens from there: Not only is it an election year, but the U.S. is also just two weeks away from surrendering control of Dutch Boy to the U.N.
This key detail raises the first of many compelling questions. Questions like: Why should one country have full authority over something that impacts the entire world? Are we supposed to understand why Jake is so mad that his younger brother (Jim Sturgess) is now running the show? Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of energy if Ed Harris’ thinly veiled mastermind was just named “Secretary of State Leonard Conspiracy McSabotage?” How do you cast Ed Harris in a movie about people controlling the weather and not have him say: “Cue the sun?” And while we’re on the subject: What the hell is a “Geostorm,” anyway?
The kind of movie that’s somehow both incredibly predictable and completely incoherent, “Geostorm” unfolds in discrete blocks of nonsense. Jake is up in orbit, performing some fun “Gravity” cos-play with a German astronaut named Fassbinder (because if you can’t make great cinema, you might as well make people think of great cinema). These scenes range from useless to boring, with one truly incredible detour into intergalactic product placement (“Dutch Boy isn’t a Chromebook,” Jake tells his little brother, “you can’t just touch it and expect everything to work!”).
Back on Earth, we’re treated to bloodless flashes of destruction, such as a frozen cargo plane crashing into Brazil and… well, actually it’s hard to think of too many others. The last 20 minutes notwithstanding, this is more of a Geomist than a Geostorm, and the storytelling is so disjointed that only a small handful of set pieces emerge intact. First-time director Dean Devlin was clearly inspired by the decades he’s spent writing and producing for Roland Emmerich, but he seems not to have learned that humans — even the glorified extras whose entire arcs are squeezed into a single sequence — are the lifeblood of a good disaster movie. Here, there isn’t any weight to what’s happening; Millions of people die, and you hardly feel a thing. “Geostorm” is terrible entertainment, but it’s a remarkably effective window into Donald Trump’s soul.
Maybe it’s best to think of “Geostorm” as a political film: The more apocalyptic this movie gets, the more it hones in on the flaws of Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy. As the closing voiceover puts it: “One planet, one people.” Even in a future threatened by global warming, human nature remains the real problem. But if “Geostorm” is an accurate representation of how Hollywood handles any of our rapidly changing environments, it might be time to surrender control of the film world to someone else.
“Geostorm” is now playing in theaters.