The whole premise for 2017’s Geostorm was inspired by a question first-time director Dean Devlin’s seven-year-old daughter Hannah asked about climate change: “Why can’t we just build a machine to fix this?” By the end of the bombastic yet boring disaster movie, you’re left wondering whether the youngster had been tasked with the script, acting coaching, and VFX, too. You’re also left wondering whether she’d recently seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Released five years ago today, Geostorm’s nonsensical story revolves around Jake Lawson, an eminent satellite designer (Gerard Butler, challenging Denise Richards’ nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough in the implausibility stakes) whose world-saving, climate-controlling creation Dutch Boy has suddenly gone rogue. Perhaps it was rebelling against the fact it’s called Dutch Boy?
Firstly, a village in the sweltering Afghanistan desert is found frozen. Then, a fireball rips through the skyscrapers and roads of a Hong Kong city, prompting the kind of preposterous car chase scene that would even make the Fast and Furious producers think, “Nah, that’s a bit much.” Of course, it’s up to the hero to thwart his creation before it wreaks havoc.
Sure, Geostorm’s tornadoes may not be pasta. But its narrative still parallels the inventive 2009 animation in which a budding scientist’s Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator becomes dangerously sentient. Jake has daddy (and brother) issues, too. His innovation also goes haywire thanks to interference from a political figure, albeit deliberately in the case of Ed Harris’ blatantly sinister U.S Secretary of State. And the world-saving masterplan relies on sourcing and executing some misplaced kill codes. As this brilliantly edited mash-up trailer proves, the similarities are uncanny.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s calling card isn’t the only film that springs to mind during Geostorm’s patience-testing 109 minutes, of course. Devlin was an acolyte of OTT disaster movie extraordinaire Roland Emmerich, co-writing and/or co-producing the likes of Godzilla, Independence Day, and its much-maligned 2016 sequel Resurgence. Once again, Devlin takes great pride in obliterating historical landmarks – instead of the White House getting blown up by extra-terrestrials, here it’s the Kremlin getting laser-melted to smithereens. And rather than bothering with anything approaching human characterization, the film simply uses the fate of a cute canine to pull on the heartstrings.
Yes, forget about all the millions of people that have already perished once Jake and a random German astronaut (Alexandra Maria Lara) finally shut down the wayward Dutch Boy with only seconds on the “Time to Geostorm” clock to spare. As long as the mutt survives, then the mission can be hailed as a resounding success. The camera does linger longer on the bikini-clad Rio beachgoer who outruns a frozen storm: unfortunately, Devlin also appeared to have picked a few things up from Michael Bay.
To be fair, the dog and the anonymous Brazilian are still more compelling than most main players. Butler, then still just about staving off the inevitable descent into straight-to-DVD purgatory, once again proves his repertoire of facial expressions rarely extends beyond smugness and general befuddlement. But Daniel Day-Lewis would struggle to sell the techno mumbo-jumbo in the soulless script.
Elsewhere, Jim Sturgess’ Max, the Assistant Secretary of State and, far more importantly, according to the number of sentimental tête-a-têtes, Jake’s younger brother, is little more than a blank canvas. Like the Scottish lead, his unconvincing American accent is explained away by a line about their British heritage. Andy Garcia’s president is less charismatic than Jimmy Carter, and Robert Sheehan’s “Cor blimey” astronaut might as well have worn a sandwich board reading “I’m the traitor.” Admittedly, the moment he accidentally ejects himself into space does provide the film’s only intentional laugh.
Unlike his mentor, Devlin can’t even be applauded for choosing style over substance. Geostorm cost $130 million (and thanks to the disappointing box office and marketing overspending, lost around half that amount, too). However, its special effects barely surpass the amateurish levels of the Sharknado franchise. If a movie isn’t going to make us care about the deaths inflicted by its freak weather occurrences (see the tsunami in Dubai and tornado in Mumbai), then it needs to look spectacular doing so. Perhaps it’s a blessing-in-disguise that just like Armageddon, the movie bottles out of nuking the whole world.
There are traces of the poor man’s Deep Impact elsewhere. Jake’s space station speech to his daughter Hannah (Talitha Bateman, one of the few actors to come out of the film with any credit) before he sacrifices himself has blatantly been modeled on Bruce Willis’ tear-jerking farewell. But seriously, pick any end-of-the-world flick from the last 30 years, and there’s a good chance Geostorm has aped it in some way. The spaceman-in-peril scene? Gravity did it. A smart car outrunning a fireball? Volcano did it. A golfball-sized hailstorm in Tokyo? Another of Emmerich’s films, The Day After Tomorrow, did it.
Geostorm finds the time to plunder from other genres, too, with echoes of The Manchurian Candidate in its presidential assassination plot, Madam Secretary in its clandestine relationship between Mark and Abbi Cornish’s Secret Service agent, and An Inconvenient Truth in its environmental messaging. Even the ‘Brave the Storm’ poster, which had to be ripped down from theaters in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, ripped off Christopher Nolan’s head-scratcher Inception.
“Everyone was warned, but no one listened,” narrates the precocious Hannah in the film’s opening line. She was, of course, referring to the rise in extreme temperatures that first put Earth’s future in jeopardy. Yet she could just as easily have admonished those who ignored the red flags (the numerous reshoots, lack of any critic screenings) and braved the cinema for a dumb amalgamation of every disaster movie that had gone before.