2017, Action Movies, Bad Movie, Bad Situations, Bad Weather, Blockbusters, Catastrophes, CGI, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Disaster Films, End of the World, Man vs. Nature, Natural World horrors, Nature Attacks! 0
Film Review by Dan Keohane
For a big-budget disaster film, there was surprisingly little promotion for GEOSTORM (2017). Maybe the marketing department at Warner Brothers figured they might not get a decent return on investment if they did. Why? Because though director and writer (with Paul Guyot) Dean Devlin (LEVERAGE TV Series and producer for INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996) took some risks in not making your average disaster movie, too many aspects of GEOSTORM fall short, falling like a cargo plane with frozen fuel lines among thousands of equally-frozen seagulls.
Something like that.
When waiting for the recent film TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017) to start, I saw the trailer for GEOSTORM and thought, Wow, I want to see this! Later on I looked up the movie description and realized it wasn’t exactly what the trailer implied. Whereas I thought the story would involve global warming-affected weather going mad and destroying humanity, GEOSTORM takes place years after this has actually happened. World powers come together and develop Dutch Boy (named for the story of the boy who stuck his finger in a dike and saved his town), an elaborate web of satellites orbiting the Earth which artificially controls the weather. How this is done is explained (loosely) through a little girl’s voiceover. Metallic robot-pills are shot into the cloud cover, making rain. Or stopping rain. Lasers heat up regions, or something else cools them down. Suspension of disbelief is as important as popcorn if you go to see this.
We open with Dutch Boy running smoothly and the world coming out of what could have been the end of humanity as we know it. The inventor of this technology is Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler, 300, 2006, GODS OF EGYPT, 2016), a gruff, confident scientist who must speak before a congressional hearing to discuss the oversight of Dutch Boy, and eventual plans to turn its supervision over to an international committee. Jake doesn’t play well in the political sandbox and is fired by the project’s new leader, Max (Jim Sturgess, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, 2007, CLOUD ATLAS, 2012), who also happens to be Jake’s younger brother. A gruff, half-spoken argument ensues and Jake storms away, his life’s work taken from him.
Three years later, things begin to go wrong with Dutch Boy. First, an entire Afghan village is discovered frozen solid, people included, even though the village is surrounded by 120 degree weather. Not long after, an area of Hong Kong heats up and fuel lines begin exploding, somehow causing entire city blocks to fall into the ground. When the Afghan satellite is brought into the expanded International Space Station for examination, a worker downloads something, hides it in his locker, and then is subsequently sucked into space when the windows of a hallway “accidentally” blow out.
With people looking at each other suspiciously, sudden obvious murders and cover-ups, and data to explain what happened disappearing from the “mainframe,” we find ourselves wrapped in a mystery. A whodunit, a whowilldoit and whatwilltheydonext all wrapped into one.
Max brings older brother Jake back onto the team to uncover what is happening at the International Space Station, where Dutch Boy is controlled. The two quickly discover this is a high-reaching conspiracy.
In the meantime, more satellites go wonky, causing more badly-rendered natural disasters in India, Rio de Janeiro and Dubai. Jake races to discover what’s going on and faces perilous space walks, suspicion against his peers, and the constant risk of his thick, furrowed eyebrows locking in that position if he doesn’t lighten up. Meanwhile, younger brother Max is trying to determine what’s going on Earth-side. A Chinese friend on the project (Daniel Wu, EUROPA REPORT, 2013) informs him something is amiss with the overall system. He cannot get into it to debug what is happening. Max’s girlfriend, Sarah (Abbie Cornish, LIMITLESS, 201, SUCKER PUNCH, 2011), happens to be a Secret Service agent, and with this extra access they slowly uncover a plot to activate terrible weather patterns around the world, eventually resulting in what’s called a Geostorm: a global storm of epic, and fatal, proportions when the domino effect of all these extreme, localized weather events reach a critical mass.
That was a lot! Let me catch my breath.
Sounds like a complicated but possibly workable story. Does it work? Some things do, but most aspects of GEOSTORM do not.
Butler and Sturgess do well as estranged brothers Jake and Max, suddenly forced to work together to save the world. I liked Andy Garcia (though, admittedly, didn’t recognize him until I saw the credits) as the U.S. President, whose role in the film picks up near the end. One other performance I really liked was Adepero Oduye (12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013, THE BIG SHORT, 2015) as computer tech-nerd Eni. She comes across as one of the more natural characters, one surrounded by mostly wooden figures. Her interplay with Sturgess is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale script. Normally, I enjoy anything Ed Harris (A BEAUTIFUL MIND, 2001, GRAVITY, 2013) plays, but his take at Chief of Staff (and Max’s boss) Dekkom is, if not boring, at least predictable. Worse yet, Cornish’s role as Max’s Secret Service fiancée Sarah plays her role with a single, stern expression and delivers her lines as if reading from a teleprompter. I’m usually not this rough on actors, it’s a tough job, but she seems so tense and uncomfortable in the role that I hoped she was one of the bad guys, pretending to be good. It would have explained a lot. She wasn’t. I guess that’s a minor spoiler which I’m not going to bother labeling. Why? Read on.
Cornish may have been playing things that way because director Devlin told her to. The story has almost everyone pretending to be the bad guy—in how they stare a little too long, wear brooding, suspicious looks on their faces, to throw us viewers on various red herring trails (mixing my metaphors, I know) as we try, with Jake and Max, to uncover the conspiracy. Granted, it’s one aspect of the film which kept me interested. Unfortunately, the natural disasters and special effects did not.
I went to GEOSTORM to see the terrible natural disasters—which is a disturbing reason to go to the movies, if you think about it. Maybe I should talk to someone. Regardless, I did, having enjoyed past films of this ilk like 2012 (2009) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). After seeing GEOSTORM’s trailer, I assumed it would mostly be this kind of thing. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it had its share of stormy chaos, but these were brief snippets, and the special effects were more SHARKNADO (2013) than 2012. Well, not quite that bad—but pretty close.
Back to the thing. The thing from the earlier paragraph. The mystery of who was sabotaging Dutch Boy. The cover up and misdirection for the viewer is entertaining. But ,if the filmmakers save the disaster moments for occasional glimpses peppered throughout the story, a) they should be decently rendered, b) be at least scientifically plausible (on a sci-fi level) and c) they should be “entertaining” (as in, “wow that was cool—horrible, but cool”). With a couple of exceptions, they’re not.
Sudden tornadoes appearing in India? OK, that might work, a satellite might play with the air currents, maybe. The twisters looked kind of fake (TWISTER, 1996, did them better twenty years ago), and in this particular snippet is another something which bugged me about this movie: in India, running amid the tornadic chaos, is a little boy and his scruffy dog. One knows, of course, that by the end these two nameless characters will not die, because one of them is a dog. Kill as many people as you want, thinks Hollywood, but never a dog. It’s this kind of trope that is prevalent in the second half of the film. Children in peril who we’re supposed to be afraid for; women in peril; corporate executives in peril. And worst of all: countdowns to the end of the world.
Jake in the space station and Max on the ground are racing against time to turn off Dutch Boy before the collective disasters trigger an unstoppable Geostorm. To make things more complicated, someone has triggered a self-destruct sequence on the ISS, which cannot be turned off. Why do movies make self-destruct sequences unstoppable? Say what you will about the original STAR TREK series (1966-1969), but Captain Kirk has used this creepy feature a few times and sometimes actually turned it off before it hit 0 by simply saying “Stop.” All self destructs should have a stop button, don’t you think? But I digress.
One emotionless but well-rendered (compared to the rest of the film) scene is when a tidal wave comes crashing into Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. We see a few executives having a meeting in an upper office of the Burj Khalifa tower. One man looks out the window and sees his city falling under the waves. Their building begins to tip and fall, and this older man stares in horror. But as a viewer, I have no idea who this man is. I am not invested in his character, or his co-workers, or that boy and scruffy dog running between panicked legs in India, or the woman running along a Brazilian street as everything flash freezes behind her. The way to instill fear, or heighten suspense in a viewer is to make the potential victims as real as possible. These people are introduced to us only as they stare wide-eyed and fearful at what is coming towards them. Was there time to build these characters up beforehand? Though INDEPENDENCE DAY was almost (not quite) as cheesy in many of its aspects, it worked because there was character introduction beforehand. Not here.
In the end, the mystery gets solved amid a violent lightning storm and an exploding International Space Station. A lot of it is stuff we’ve seen before, and nothing overly-surprising, except the end, which is a little too happy and wrapped up. To give credit where it’s due, my buddy Dave sitting beside me really enjoyed GEOSTORM, and wasn’t as snobbish as I was about some of its faults. But I can’t give it more than a knife and a half, especially considering I went in with lowered expectations, and thus should have enjoyed it more. When I almost typed a sentence suggesting SAN ANDREAS (2015) as a better choice for a more recent disaster film, you know GEOSTORM didn’t hit its mark.
© Copyright 2017 by Daniel G. Keohane
Dan Keohane gives GEOSTORM ~one and a half knives.