American films

Film review: Geostorm – Gerard Butler fights climate change in contrived sci-fi action epic

After a year of extreme weather events, what should have been a well acted, timely cautionary tale about climate change somehow fails to hit home, let down by a clumsy and contrived plot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 2:54pm

2.5/5 stars

There’s an early scene in Geostorm where Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu Yin-cho, playing one of several dozen satellite experts in the film, steps out of an air-conditioned 7-Eleven onto Sai Yeung Choi Street in Mong Kok and immediately begins sweating profusely from the heat. The camera lingers on a single bead of sweat running down the side of his face – a filmmaking technique meant to hint that something is wrong.

But those of us watching in Hong Kong probably wouldn’t think much of it, seeing as unbearably hot weather has increasingly become the norm in the city. We did, after all, just experience the hottest day in October in 130 years, and one of the hottest Septembers ever before that.

But that’s perhaps also why this film is so timely. Anomalous weather likely caused by climate change, ranging from unusually hot autumn months to catastrophic hurricanes and typhoons, has become more frequent in the real world, yet many across the globe, including recycling-averse Hongkongers and the current US President, still refuse to take it seriously.

Geostorm star Gerard Butler on the epic disaster film’s ill-timed release, and his own near brushes with historically traumatic events

In Geostorm, Gerard Butler plays American rocket scientist Jake Lawson, who, we’re told in a weird opening voice-over, is the “one man” who ended global warming by designing and building an elaborate satellite system to control earth’s atmosphere – yes, climate change is solved in the first five minutes of the film by Butler.

Things are fine until the satellite system malfunctions three years later, leading to epic weather disasters around the world. Concluding that the pattern of ice storms and heatwaves will lead to half the world’s population being wiped out, Jake and his brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who has some vague senior position at the White House, team up to save the world: Jake in space doing Gerard Butler things, and Max in Washington trying to decipher what led to the malfunctions.

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A series of contrived and convenient plot points – Max just happens to be dating a Secret Service agent (Abbie Cornish) who has direct access to satellite files – reveal that Jake’s system has been hacked, and the mastermind behind the plot is someone within the White House.

From then on, Devlin rolls out every cliché from the B-action thriller handbook: there are cheap scares, double crosses, a ticking time bomb, death of a supporting character who mutters cryptic clues to the hero with his dying breath, and so on. There are some decent CGI set pieces to be seen here, and Ed Harris and Andy Garcia, respectively playing a Washington politician and the US President, bring their dramatic chops.

But while Geostorm’s fantastical scenes of major cities being destroyed – from Tokyo to Dubai to Moscow – by heatwaves and thunderstorms could serve as a wake up call, the climate change angle is mere window dressing for what is essentially another “Gerard Butler action film”, a brand of B-movies with neither the depth of true Hollywood blockbusters, nor the following of Liam Neeson’s similarly low-budget one-man actioners.

Written, produced and directed by American Dean Devlin – best known for producing Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) – Geostorm has the potential to become an important cautionary tale. Instead, the movie falls far short of those expectations.

Geostorm opens today (October 12)

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