‘Geostorm’ Review: The Big Summer Blockbuster of 1998
I can only imagine what it was like working on the set of Dean Devlin’s Geostorm, but I like to think it involved Devlin, who after writing such 90s blockbusters as Independence Day and Godzilla, told cast and crew to gather round and hear stories about making movies in the 1990s. Everyone then proceeded to make a movie that looked like it came out of the late-90s in terms of plot, characters, stakes, and set pieces. It’s a movie that feels positively ancient by today’s blockbuster standards, and rather than coming off like a decent throwback, Geostorm rarely achieves the bombast or melodrama necessary to make it a fun time. What could have been a delightfully goofy picture instead comes off as shockingly stale.
After climate change causes a series of extreme weather events, the world, led by the U.S. and China, bands together to create “Dutch Boy”, a series of satellites that can control the weather via the International Space Station. Led by roguishly handsome scientist Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), the program is taken away from him due to his insubordination and given to his younger brother, Max (Jim Sturgess), an assistant at the State Department. Three years later and dangerous malfunctions start harming various locations on the planet. Jake and Max must overcome their strained relationship as Jake heads back up to the space station to figure out what’s happening while Max oversees the problems on Earth. Eventually, the brothers uncover a conspiracy where someone is using Dutch Boy as a weapon and the only way to save the world is to restart the system and stop the perpetrators.
You know the scene in The Day After Tomorrow where Jake Gyllenhaal outruns weather? Devlin must have watched that scene and thought to himself, “What if that, but as an entire movie?” Every set piece in Geostorm is just people outrunning weather. In Hong Kong, geothermal temperatures spike, plumes of fire start coming out of the ground, and a scientist has to outrun it. People have to outrun tornados, hailstorms, and air that freezes you instantly. And if no one had ever made a movie about weather disasters before, maybe Geostorm would work on that level.
Instead, Geostorm feels painfully safe even at its silliest moments. It’s a film where the dialogue is laughably awful (“It’s like going on a roller coaster after eating Chipotle,” is the example of a line that’s meant for comic effect) and the twists are only surprising if you’ve never seen a film before. When a minor supporting character tells Max, “I’ve got it all figured out! Meet me at the park at 10:00pm!” and we’re not even halfway through the movie, I’ll give you three guesses for what happens to that minor supporting character, but you’re only going to need one. And if you can’t figure out in the first 20 minutes who the bad guy is, please see me after school for Remedial Blockbuster 101.
Devlin’s script, co-written with Paul Guyot, is excruciatingly lazy, but in service of nothing other than stringing plot points together. Max needs the help of a secret service agent, so the script just has him be the secret boyfriend of head secret service agent *heads to IMDb to look up her character’s name* Sarah (Abbie Cornish), but their relationship lacks any texture and nuance to the point where you’d be surprised if they knew each other’s last names. Max and Jake are brothers because brothers will ultimately trust each other, and that’s what the script needs them to do. Geostorm is constantly taking shortcuts, but it never gets anything worthwhile in the exchange.
The frustrating thing about Geostorm is that it’s difficult to figure out who it’s for. The film is so old-fashioned (“old” being a couple decades, but a lot has changed in those two decades) that it feels achingly familiar, but it’s also terrified of doing anything new or different. I suppose there’s something to be said for comfort-food cinema, but usually that comfort food is at least competently made. With Geostorm we expect the end credits to show everyone involved receive their paychecks. The writing is bad, the VFX are ugly, and the acting is tepid.
Geostorm is too safe for the people that want a fun blockbuster and too stale for people who want something different. I don’t need a bad film to constantly wink at the camera, but I was constantly surprised at how tame and humorless the whole film was. It’s a movie with zero charisma or personality. Every ounce of bombast is something you cherish because it’s when the film is actually interesting. Having Andy Garcia shout, “Because I’m the goddamn President of the United States!” is the film Geostorm should be throughout its runtime, but it appears terrified of being that movie. Instead, it comes off as a pale imitator of a blockbuster that has long since perished.