Monday, 23 October 2017

Geostorm (2017) - Movie Review

There’s always been something rather perverse about the natural disaster sub-genre. Starting and subsequently nose-diving during the 70’s, disaster films have always presented themselves as a showing of solidarity between people of different backgrounds working together to avert the titular disaster. However, in recent years with the continuing threat of climate change, it has kept that same mentality but added the spectacle nature of visual effects into the mix. Rather than watching people unite to show the world working as one for a change, it turned into taking joy out of seeing the world get crushed by the forces of nature. I know that some men literally just want to watch the world burn, but given how the writing quality of these films have spiralled out into thin but plentiful casts who exist solely to witness the hand of God flatten the Earth, these films aren’t being made with actual humanity in them these days. I’d be far more disheartened by this if it wasn’t for the one shining positive that a lot of these films share, but all in good time. For right now, let’s look at the latest attempt to pull off global carnage in the cinema.

The plot: In the near-future, a series of weather-controlling satellites have given humanity the ability to avert natural disasters. However, when the system begins to malfunction, signs of targeted extreme weather start appearing. Satellite designer Jake (Gerard Butler) has been recruited by his brother Max (Jim Sturgess) to go up to the International Space Station and find the cause of the malfunction, but soon finds evidence of intentional sabotage. He has to stop the satellites before they bring Earth into a world-destroying geostorm.

Butler is essentially playing the Bizarro version of his character from London Has Fallen, trading xenophobic paranoia for populist scepticism of the government. While it is nice seeing him play an actual good guy for a change, and his scenes with Talitha Bateman as his daughter are sweet, he still has that massive chip on his shoulder and uber-cockiness that pull him down somewhat. Credit to him, though, in that he makes these character traits watchable if not always endearing. Sturgess, even in spite of the thin jaded-younger-brother character he’s been given, is very engaging and he brings a lot of energy to the film’s less-than-fluid moments. Abbie Cornish as a secret service agent and Max’s girlfriend Sarah, while handling the role well, is still saddled with a female character whose arc ends with getting engaged to one of the leads; I can’t be the only one getting tired of seeing this.
Ed Harris gives a solid performance as the Secretary of State, same with Andy García as “the goddamn President of the United States of America”, in his own words, who manages to deliver even that hilariously hammy line with just the right punch to make it stick. Alexandra Maria Lara as the commander of the ISS is even more female-character-as-accessory as Cornish, although thankfully not forced into being a love interest, Robert Sheehan of Misfits fame is kind of fun in his few scenes, Daniel Wu is pretty much Deep Wang dialled down to monotone levels, and Eugenio Derbez as a Mexican crew member needs a pay increase because he needs compensation for the rather stupid exchange he’s forced to take part in when Jake boards the station.

Since disaster films tend to die or die slightly slower by their visuals, let’s get into that first. First-time director Dean Devlin did a lot of work with Roland Emmerich back in the 90’s, as well as on last year’s tremendous blunder Independence Day: Resurgence, and his experience in this field of bombastic world-ending carries through here. With the main plot concerning man controlling the weather (which reaches weird meta levels once it hits that Devlin and co. are essentially doing just that here), it offers plenty of opportunities for different types of disasters to be shown, something that is taken advantage of. Tsunamis, heatwaves, earthquakes, dropping temperatures that the characters are able to outrun for some reason; the bar’s stacked up with all your favourites.
I may have joked about the act of watching people die in the introduction, but honestly, the visuals here are pretty damn good. It has the usual clearly-made-by-computers feel to it, but the size and scale of the disasters themselves make for good visual spectacle. Not to mention the shots aboard and surrounding the space station, which look genuinely impressive with the amount of detail put into the effects work. It also has at least some restrain in terms of what we see, so the barrage of carnage doesn’t become monotonous too quickly and the use of explosives isn’t near-constant like we’re so used to seeing; as much as Michael Bay probably approves of this kind of production, he would do well to take some lessons from it while he’s at it.

I don’t know when exactly it happened, but somewhere along the way, globalism as a political practice became the enemy. Rather than using other countries’ proximity and resources as a good thing (which is debatable, admittedly, but hear me out), suddenly it became about looking out for one’s own nation and being more likely to bomb other nations than lend aid. It’s cynicism on a literally global scale, and considering globalism’s roots in Western colonialism as far as nations affecting each other, it feels like another baby-and-bath-water situation that the right just love to parade out to make the other side seem worse than they are.
If this sounds like I’m being preachy, then be warned if you plan on going to see this movie yourself because it is even more glaring. Initially setting up a situation where the Democratic president could be behind the malfunctions, it eventually spins out into a story about how the satellites are a force for good… in the right hands, not when in those that only appeal to nationalism. Considering climate science is inexorably linked to the left nowadays, and Jake’s introductory scene of him chewing out the government over taking him out of his own project, this could easily be read as either a sincere left-leaning appeal for globalism, or a cynical right-leaning farce meant to poke fun at that very ideal. Then again, I don’t even know why I’m entertaining this film as an attempt at serious political commentary; it’s way too goofy to be taken seriously as anything.

Along with aping Emmerich’s approach to visuals, Devlin seems to have done the same in terms of writing because this shares a lot of the immediately-hilarious traits of Emmerich’s more widely-remembered flicks. Cast of thinly-written characters in a vain attempt to connect with the audience through sheer force of numbers? Check. Overblown visuals that turn destruction into farce? Check. Dubious understanding of science? All the checks. Then there’s all the kitsch, from the aforementioned one-liner from the President to Jake sending an extremely convoluted coded message to his brother, right down to pretty much anything involving Sarah and Max’s supposedly-forbidden relationship.
It’s more than a little ridiculous, even considering the main conceit of the film… and I have zero issue with that. If this was actively insulting the audience’s intelligence, which it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to do, that’d be one thing. But because this film is so shameless in its own quirks, it flips back around from just being classically bad into something that’s worth watching with some mates, some beers and possibly some ‘medicine’ to have some good chuckles about. As stupid as it is, I’m still laughing at García declaring that he’s the goddamn president and I likely will keep doing so for the rest of the day.

All in all, this is a film that is worth watching for all the wrong reasons. While the performances manage to outperform the rather weak writing and the special effects are quite good, the writing combined with the usual Emmerich-style bombast makes this near-impossible to take seriously. This would be a problem if all those issues didn’t manage to coalesce into a film that is undeniably bad but to the point of being entertaining in spite of itself. It’s not as plentiful in unintentional yucks as The Mummy, but it’s damn close and honestly worth seeing in the cinemas while you can. If not, a nice riffing party at home will do nicely.

Come to think of it, this film is actually weirdly topical: Plenty of natural disasters have occurred over the past year, a lot of them concentrated on the Americas… maybe the government is controlling the weather. The deep left state is trying to force Trump out of the picture and reinstate the globalist world order! Clinton’s emails told us everything! THE WORLD MUST KNOW!

Oh, come on, guys! You’re not even trying anymore!

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