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Geostorm movie review: a climate change disaster-palooza so bad it’s good

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There is a moment, approximately halfway through director Dean Devlin’s disaster-palooza Geostorm, when the title of the movie is dropped in conversation and a helpful slab of exposition tells us what it means. A clammy, flustered character explains that the planet may suffer from this terrible, terrible weather event, which – to summarise, without getting too scientific – is basically very, very terrible.

At this point a distressing realisation dawned on me: the movie I was watching was about people attempting to prevent a geostorm, rather than the planet being hit by one. Which is hardly the same thing.

Provoked by the moments of scenery-destroying, Roland Emmerich style climate change unveiled so far, which had proven quite satisfying (such as vision of a man in Hong Kong who drops his eggs on the ground, and the hot surface causes those eggs to immediately start frying) I began desperately craving apocalypse-sized destruction. Devlin and his stupid, so-bad-it’s-kind-of good movie had scratched a serious itch.

I also wanted to witness the death, preferably gruesome, of virtually every one of the film’s characters, all of them hokey archetypes. I drew the line at Andy Garcia playing the President of the United States, because, well, it’s Andy Garcia playing the President of the United States, so something is self-evidently right about that.

Garcia’s bitsy performance reminded of Morgan Freeman, also playing POTUS, in 1998’s Deep Impact, a film – like Michael Bay’s Armageddon, released the same year – about an attempt to save the world by nuking a comet. And it reminded me of disaster movies more broadly: spectacles such as Volcano, Twister and Hard Rain, which fused environmental catastrophe with outrageous countermeasures.

“To appreciate this film, which I suppose can be rationalised in the context of a guilty pleasure, one needs to be on the same page as it – which is to say, somewhere semi-illiterate.”

Geostorm’s screenplay, co-written by Devlin and Paul Guyot, paints the very near future (2019) as a period in which earth has been hit by various biblical-proportioned disasters. A superfluous, scene-setting, initially Road Warrior-esque voiceover explains that “everyone was warned, but no-one listened.” Then governments realised “no single nation could solve the problem” so a collection of countries got together, held hands, and helped out.

A natural disaster defense system nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’ was created, surrounding the earth and controlling the climate. And, by George, it works! The architect of this miraculous thing is, unbelievably, the belligerent, short-fused alpha male Jake (Gerard Butler) who I most certainly wanted killed in the most heinous of ways. He is introduced bellowing at a senate hearing committee, Col. Nathan Jessup style, ranting about how “people like you need people like me.”

Jake’s perfect, weather-neutralising system turns out to be… not so perfect. Or at least open to human sabotage, the writers inform us. As in: wink wink, somebody might be trying to turn the thing that saved humankind into a weapon, because humans.

It’s clear something has gone wrong when a UN team riding through Afghanistan stumble upon a village in the middle of arid desert that’s been frozen. Dead upright villagers have been turned to popsicles mid-stride, as if the place has been attacked by Mr Freeze (“ice to know you!”). It is a visually arresting scene with an otherworldly twang, like the VR bazaar sequence – also set in a desert – in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Geostorm brings tin-eared dialogue and squirrely, logic-deprived plotlines a-plenty. Miraculously, however, I had quite a bit of fun with it. To appreciate this film, which I suppose can be rationalised in the context of a guilty pleasure, one needs to be on the same page as it – which is to say, somewhere semi-illiterate. A key piece of imagery depicts shimmering white clouds broken up by gushes of divine light, as a voice-over lectures us about “one planet, one future.”

And I enjoyed, perhaps more than I should have, grappling with Geostorm’s muddled politics. The film paints Americans as both world heroes and cat-stroking slime bags: our only hope, and the cause of all this rot in the first place. It is deeply skeptical about government and institution, with a conservative, lone hero bent. Devlin offsets progressive ideology with a message about individualism and getting the job done by yourself (particularly if your name is Gerard Butler) while pretending to trumpet collaboration and group effort.

Geostorm uses its scenery-obliterating premise to explore, if tangentially, a perhaps quintessentially American feeling: that the clock should be wound back – by any means necessary – to the 1940s, when Uncle Sam was truly mighty. I won’t reveal the extent of the titular ‘geostorm’ – i.e. whether it actually, truly transpires. But I can provide assurance that there is a satisfying amount of madness; enough to compare the film favourably to those silly but entertaining ’90s disaster flicks.

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