It’s the very near future, and extreme weather conditions are kept in check by a system of weather control satellites that encircle the earth, all controlled from the now surprisingly roomy International Space Station. Things go awry when a series of malfunctions wreak localised weather-riffic havoc on various spots around the globe (a sudden freeze in the Afghani desert, for example) – but, of course, it’s not accidental, is it? A loose-knit team must race against the clock – quite literally in the final act – to figure out who’s behind the sabotage before the titular weather event wipes a goodly proportion of the population from the planet.
Geostorm comes to us from the mind of director and co-writer Dean Devlin, long-time producer and writing partner of Roland Emmerich, and the pair have form for this sort of thing – see 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow as proof. There’s a formula for this sort of thing deeply rooted in the big budget disaster spectacles that super-producer Irwin Allen specialised in back in the ’70s, and that Devlin has pretty much made his own in our time: take a high concept disaster, fill your cast with known but affordable faces, add pathos and cutting edge special effects, and cash your cheque. Indeed, the only real difference between the likes of The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and this is that effects technology has marched on, and that casts have regressed (Gerard Butler and company are fine, but they’re not quite the calibre of Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman, are they?)
Butler, always a robust performer, is Jake Lawson, the maverick designer of the weather control system (nicknamed “Dutch boy” for no real reason), fired for insubordination but brought back in to troubleshoot by his estranged brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). That means getting back on board the ISS and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with his supertech baby while a traitor on board does his best to take our man Jake out of the picture. Max, for his part, has to try to unravel a conspiracy that leads to the highest echelons of government, with the help of his Secret Service agent girlfriend, Sarah (Abbie Cornish, the best thing here). Andy Garcia crops up as the President, Ed Harris as the Secretary of State, and future Domino Zazie Beetz as a computer tech who helps Max in his quest for truth – which is really a quest for padded running time to allow for more weaponised weather mayhem.
In fact, the running time is too padded – we spend a lot of time spinning our narrative wheels with the fairly perfunctory mystery plot when we could be watching world landmarks get wrecked – which is the entire reason we’re here, after all. The action setpieces, when they do come, are a lively time. You do, of course, have to leave any understanding of physics and climate at the door in order to get anything out of this nonsense, but that’s a price worth paying – otherwise you don’t get to see Rio de Janeiro flash-frozen, and where’s the fun in that?
The film falters when it tries to introduce emotion into the proceedings, which it does in as heavy-handed and obvious way possible. Lawson elder’s standard issue cute daughter (Talitha Bateman) gets so bent out of shape over the prospect of her father heading back into space for work she’s practically a cackling harbinger of doom. The Lawson brothers’ eventual and inevitable reconciliation is about as shocking as flies in summer, and the eventual reveal of the villain even less surprising – just ask yourself which big name actor has been given the least to do, and you’ll out-Sherlock our dogged protagonists in seconds flat.
Geostorm is, in its way, enjoyable enough. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and hits the quota of spectacle and thrills without ever threatening to do anything too new with the disaster popcorn genre. It’s still a hard film to recommend, though – while it’s perfectly fine Sunday afternoon background noise, even the scale of its effects sequences makes it a hard sell as a theatrical experience. Still, one couch-bound day, you could do worse than queuing it up – just calibrate your expectations accordingly.