The long-running partnership of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin practically invented its own sub-genre of wildly destructive, crowd-pleasing, and terribly written global disaster movies. After making the likes of Independence Day, Stargate, and Godzilla, that partnership split. Emmerich continued to hone his disaster movie credentials with The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and Moonfall. Devlin produced a disparate series of films including Eight-Legged Freaks, Cellular, and Flyboys.
In 2017 Devlin made his debut as director with a fresh global disaster film, effectively going head-to-head with his former creative buddy in terms of lavish visual effects and widespread scenes of mass carnage. Geostorm stars everybody’s favourite B-grade star Gerard Butler as satellite designer Jacob Lawson, whose global weather control system appears to be malfunctioning – turning deserts into tundra and causing freak weather events to level entire cities. When deliberate sabotage is suspected, Jacob races against time with his estranged brother Max (Jim Sturgess) to identify those responsible.
If nothing else, Geostorm proves what a positive influence Emmerich was on those earlier collaborative productions. Without him, Devlin is left to flounder with a disaster picture that is short on logic and charm – and most damning of all, short on actual disasters. Much of the film’s expected scenes of destructive weather and apocalyptic mayhem are condensed into its third act, leaving the remaining two badly short of tension, fun, and general entertainment value. We expect movies like this to be ‘bad’ in the conventional sense, but we can often find some worth in simply enjoying the silliness of it all. Geostorm is simply bad filmmaking: bad plot, bad pace, bad effects, and bad acting. In general the cast flounders under a wave of poor dialogue. In a few specific cases, genuinely great actors simply give up. They don’t even play their roles up for laughs. Ed Harris in particular, as the US Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom, honestly looks like he would rather be dead than perform another minute of the film. One can only imagine the truckful of cash that must have convinced an actor of his reputation and stature to demean themselves so willingly.
There is not even a cursory attempt at realism, and for all of its international setting it feels like no one in the production process had ever actually visited any of the foreign cities that meet their doom. One scene, involving a man in Hong Kong driving a car to visit a convenience store, is not even so bad as to be funny – it is simply impossible to understand.
There is no mystery to the story. Anybody who does not immediately guess the villain behind the scenes has clearly never watched a movie. There is no grit to the proceedings; even at its most desperate, the film is clearly not going to kill off any character we are supposed to like. Making a film to the standard of Independence Day or Godzilla is a relatively low bar, and Devlin does not even manage that. It is a waste: of Devlin’s time and of the audience’s, of whatever costs it is to see on home video or a streaming service, and whatever it cost Warner Bros to produce. I have sat through some pretty risible films in this weird and destructive genre. Geostorm is, to use a term that could probably turn up in its script, one of the risiblest.