Geostorm Undermines Its Own Potential
by Kristin Battestella
Independence Day writer Dean Devlin's 2017 directorial debut Geostorm undermines its own science fiction disaster movie possibilities with trite characterizations and convoluted conspiracies.
Dutch Boy satellite creator Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is called back to the space station he designed by his brother Assistant Secretary of State Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess) when the climate control systems that previously saved the planet malfunction – perhaps due to a saboteur. Weather all over the planet is drastically changing, leading to natural disasters and more catastrophes. Jake performs perilous space walks to root out the satellite's virus and uncover the onboard culprit while Max and his Secret Service agent fiancee Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish) investigate which of their superiors is behind the plot, be it President Andrew Palma (Andy Garcia) or Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom (Ed Harris).
Despite thunder, lighting, droughts, and hurricanes leading to planetary destruction, the opening of Geostorm is already problematic thanks to a juvenile narration with overly serious enunciation and extra emphasis that's almost laughable when viewers today have already experienced enough catastrophes. The audience plays catch up on the initial disasters necessitating this weather control as senate committees argue over who's in charge after the fact before changing their tune fifteen minutes later. Then, Geostorm restarts again three years on with the politicians still arguing after the satellite malfunctions when meeting the global scientists coming together to build a climate control satellite in the first place would have been a better place to begin. Learning the science on how all this might be possible is more entertaining than a kid explaining why the system is called Dutch Boy as if that's all we need to know to suspend our disbelief, and Geostorm plumb takes place at the wrong point in the story. Intriguing space station sabotage, airlock disasters, and hidden files are put on hold as Geostorm jumps from location to location to show eggs sizzling on the sidewalk or anonymous people outrunning lava in the streets. Possible moles, cover ups, and whispers of critical failure are less dangerous when such important information comes by phone, and the dialogue is so millennial they talk about how millennial they are. Geostorm needs to be cool or sarcastic because it is so afraid to be dramatic lest it be perceived as boring or slow. Massive equipment run amok set pieces are okay, however scientists with evidence add better depth than high tech screens or corrupted gear, and Geostorm cuts away from risky upside down spacewalks for ominous jerks on earth stealing White House servers – deflating its story about a weather satellite saving the planet from disaster when it should never leave the space station's tampering and gunpoint confrontations. Granted, bullets in an airtight environment are problematic, too, but so is having the system's access codes hinge on the current president's thumbprint. Of course America would do everything to keep a weather control satellite system from being turned over to international power. Revealing that as some secret shock just so one can kidnap the president in an orange mini cab and drive backwards while shooting at the pursuing bad guys unfortunately makes Geostorm laughably inferior to the Cobra Commander's Weather Dominator on G.I. Joe.
Throw away lines about being born in the UK but raised in the US don't let the bearded Gerard Butler (300) use his full Scottish burr, but he's entitled to some sassy after having saved the day by designing Dutch Boy. Jake is angry at the red tape and scoffs when his undermining brother needs his help. He's sad to leave his daughter with tearful promises, but Jake's happy to be back in business onboard the station. He's cocky but takes charge, knowing how to put what's wrong right whether it's revealing secret codes or getting physical with the bad guys. Jake acts tough but is also a big softy, and Geostorm should have focused on the space heroics at its core. Likewise Talitha Bateman (Annabelle: Creation) as Jake's daughter Hannah should have been more involved or not been in Geostorm at all. She says don't treat me like a child when she totally behaves like one, and after the annoying narration and early departures, she's only seen briefly watching the drama on the television before ending Geostorm with another hamfisted voiceover. Jim Sturgess' Max (Across the Universe) is also an unlikable hypocrite screwing his brother when it suits him before quoting him to the committees and buttering Jake up so he'll return to the project from which Max excised him. His cryptic calls in the night, snooping about security clearances, and trite hacking exposition muddle the picture with brotherly angst and motherly manpain, and I suspect Geostorm may have been better if his entire subplot were removed. It never feels as if he genuinely cares – Max wants to be in charge so he can dispense information to his big brother in an I know something you don't know ego trip. The characters work together because the picture says so, and Max's beady eyes won't let viewers forget his selfish motivation.
Whether she's obvious in being suspect or going rogue when it matters, Abby Cornish's (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Secret Service agent is not believable either. She's portrayed as a poor at her job and introduces herself as Max's fiancee as if their lack of chemistry is more important than her work. Although he's also presented as suspicious and wants this climate satellite fixed because it's an election year, I'd be here for Andy Garcia (The Godfather Part III) as President Andrew Palma if Geostorm didn't blatantly play into his red herring. Ed Harris (Appaloosa) likewise seems stiffer than usual as the Secretary of State orchestrating events behind the scenes. Familiar back and forths on men playing god with no real reason for the villain to be so evil become a cop out for the sci-fi disaster. It'd be great to see Harris scene chewing in a no holds barred drama about a corrupt politician's rise to power– but it doesn't belong in Geostorm. All this action was over a crooked politician? As they sing in Newsies, “That ain't news no more!” Rather than providing sophisticated technological insights or intelligent, realistic dialogue; numerous cliché characters litter Geostorm, too, including the geeky but hip black lesbian hacker and the nerdy Asian guy in glasses. Such utilitarian roles are only here because the personnel had to be, and making those placeholder characters minorities creates false diversity onscreen. There's a Mexican scientist who gets blown out the airlock, a French astronaut with a swarthy accent, a sassy British programmer, and a shopworn betrayer motivated solely by money. These characters are often seen and not heard, as if the flags on their sleeves are enough to hit home that international feeling. 'Scusi?
The storm clouds, satellite images, weather graphics, and frozen eerie in the wrong environment can be great. Spacesuits, weightlessness, solar panels, and spacial switchboards invoke the sci-fi mood amid countdowns and power reboots while the futuristic yet old fashioned shuttle launches sentimentally recall those vintage NASA flights we don't see anymore. However, Geostorm has an unrealistic and jarring digital gradient, as if the print has been through too many filters and we can see the Photoshop. Lighting changes as people stand near windows in separate cross coverage are apparent, and up close shots almost look like graphics themselves – overlays hiding if actors weren't in the same place at the same time with Ed Harris particularly appearing as if he was digitally inserted into his scenes. Where space should be drifting or quiet, Geostorm's look is both stilted and fast with hip music and cool action giving no pause for the audience to awe. Every scene transition is an unnecessary establishing pan – we don't need the obviously fake D.C. townhouse swoop when we know the character inside is earthbound. Such expensive but poor shots make Geostorm look wasteful on top of uneven sound and contemporary redundancy. Characters say silly things about Chromebooks, but will Chromebooks still be around in seven years? It might have been neat to only see the natural disasters from the space station's point of view as crew tap into satellite footage or watch the global devastation from above– as compared to the typical in your face disaster action with babes outrunning snow on the beach. Fittingly, the trailers on the Geostorm rental disc also look the same with fast editing and that boom...boom....boom... music. From ominous set ups, cool slow mo action, silent money shots, and a comedic stinger; Ready Player One, Tomb Raider, Justice League, and Blade Runner 2049 become a seven minute advertisement for one long interchangeable CGI fest. In a world where all films use the same CGI company and trailers follow a broad, formulaic pattern, there was one man who could save the movie marketing industry from itself. His name: Don LaFontaine...
Viewers can tell Geostorm had multiple writers and re-shoots with a different director across two years, as it really is two movies in one. Audiences looking for science fiction will be frustrated by the pedestrian conspiracies – that's not what it says on the tin so expecting one movie and getting another is not a pleasant surprise. The messy script and faulty framework provide humorless flavor to the popcorn, and shoehorned plots with unnecessary characters detract from the disaster action. Geostorm was already up against the wall with shuffling release dates; it's tough to enjoy such weather fantastics after so many real natural disasters, and the tacked on White House conspiracy is now tone deaf, too. Although fun for fans of the cast or those seeking late night action kicks, Geostorm doesn't embrace its entertaining space station moments, remaining cliché and cynical when viewers are in desperate need of a feel good, heroic piece.