Batten down the hatches! It’s disaster movie week at the multiplex. Whereas Columbia Pictures’ Only the Brave prevails as a bulwark of a drama, Warner Bros.’ generic blockbuster Geostorm couldn’t be farther from it. With incompetent execution, incoherent plotting, asinine dialogue and laughable performances, this epic has it all, save for one important little detail: thrilling special effects. You heard that right – with little to no impressive visuals, the latest popcorn spectacle doesn’t even offer what it takes to please the least demanding of filmgoers.
As a subgenre, disaster movies aren’t really known for their artistic merits. Renowned for their broad perspectives that favor destruction and turmoil over sound storytelling and rounded characters, these crude special effects extravaganzas have been ruling the box office from the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay ever since Roland Emmerich wrote the playbook with the woefully over-lauded Independence Day. For years, audiences have shelled out big bucks for the morbid thrill of seeing their world in shambles, but the tide is beginning to shift.
Box office reports indicate Geostorm is a flop, and the film had it coming. Heavily borrowing from the likes of Roland Emmerich-directed disaster flicks The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, Geostorm intends to educate its audience by instilling a fear of climate change, depicting a not-too distant future where tropical storms and other forms of catastrophe are frequent in number. Here, however, writer and first-time director Dean Devlin falls flat on his face in conveying the message, making Emmerich’s blundering wrecks look like refined works of prose in comparison.
Geostorm posits a 2019 where 17 countries have cooperated to fund the building of a satellite network and space station that can prevent natural disasters from occurring, dubbed “Dutch Boy” after the tale of the child who held back the sea in Holland by plugging a hole in the dam with his finger. Contentious brothers Jake (Gerard Butler), the designer of Dutch Boy, and Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess), a presidential aid, uncover a conspiracy that aims to harness Dutch Boy as a weapon, by unleashing havoc on selected cities worldwide to spearhead political advantage.
Do you see what we have here? Devlin’s Geostorm is much less about the dangers of increasing hurricanes and shifting weather patterns due to climate change, but rather the threats created by mankind’s response to climate change. The villain here is not pollution and fossil fuels, but the attempts to fix problems with our world. If Devlin and co-writer Paul Guyot want to raise awareness of this issue, this is not the way to do it. In one of the few areas where usual Emmerich fare tends to succeed, Geostorm embarrassingly fumbles, and actively thwarts its own goals.
In addition to inept attempt at provoking response, Geostorm is plagued with all of the standard issues you can expect with a routine disaster movie. Convoluted plotting renders the story nearly incomprehensible, and chaotic jumbled action sequences are a dime a dozen. Gerard Butler nabs an easy payday as the reckless Jake, a lumbering loudmouthed moron despite being a supposed genius. His pretty-boy brother Max is impulsive and pretentious, and Jake’s 13-year-old daughter is an excruciating cliché, sassy and smart, and tasked with painful solemn voice-overs.
Though shoddy direction will hardly tend to bother this film’s target audience, the staggering lack of special effects will. Boasting a $120 million budget, little of it makes its way to the screen. Viewers expecting the large-scale destruction that characterize usual disaster movies will be disappointed. Though major catastrophes occur worldwide, viewers get to see little more than an earthquake in the early portion and a tidal wave near the climax. A lightning storm midway through is enough to give those who aren’t even prone to epilepsy their first taste of a seizure.
2017 has been noted for the decline of the blockbuster, and the pitiful box office returns of Geostorm see the failure of the popcorn spectacle lingering into the fall. On the other hand, perhaps the prevalence of recent hurricanes has soured viewers’ appetites for on-screen catastrophe. This would make sense as well, as Devlin’s send-up to bad weather is remarkably ill-timed. A favorable alternative would be Only the Brave, which is far more relevant and sympathetic to victims of calamity. Geostorm, however, truly puts the disaster in disaster movie.