“Look at you, girl!” Get me a sexy bearded Scotsman who looks at me the way Jake Lawson looks at the International Space Station on his first visit there for three years.
Three years, since his younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess) fired him as head of Dutch Boy, the system of protective satellites that has saved the world from extreme weather and which Jake (Gerard Butler) created and built.
In 2019 Earth had been subjected to a series of freak weather events – a million people killed in one day in a Madrid heatwave, with millions more dying around the world from floods, tornados, and droughts.
A satellite system, built through international co-operation, the like of which had not been seen since we all got together and decided that lots of countries not actually in Europe could compete in the Eurovision Song Contest, has protected the planet since – but now something’s going wrong.
An Afghan village is found by UN soldiers shrouded in ice, while around them the desert sand is baking. Hong Kong sees tower blocks crumble as roads buckle in flames beneath. In England, the sun comes out for five minutes on the August bank holiday and everyone dies of shock.
It turns out the weather satellites are going crazy. Individually at first, exposing areas to terrifying weather that ends as quickly as it started. Then a man dies on the space station as windows shatter and he’s sucked out into space. What are initially put down to simple malfunctions may be part of a huge plot, perhaps involving… a Geostorm.
With the Dutch Boy system shortly to be handed over from US control to an international committee, American President Palma (Andy Garcia) charges Max, now an Assistant Secretary of State, with finding someone suitable to go up to the international space station (ISS) and find out what’s gone wrong first. And there’s only one person right for the job.
Part science fiction, part thriller, and part Gerard Butler in an all-in-one boiler suit (adding an extra layer of complication to children’s favourite space-related question, “how do astronauts go to the toilet”), Geostorm is rather too formulaic to be knuckle-whiteningly exciting.
And I hate to say this, as someone who likes nothing more than sitting down with a cup of tea to watch a Britflick involving corsets and bonnets, that I could’ve done with more spectacular deaths from mad weather. Without wishing to sound uncaring, when you’ve seen one person freeze solid and their hand drop off you’ve seen them all, and the attempts during each extreme weather event to make us care about an individual, or a pet, don’t really work.
That said, I genuinely enjoyed Geostorm, including the talky bits on the space station. It’s an entertaining romp that paces well and doesn’t drag, coming in at under two hours. I also knew what was going on for quite a lot of the time, apart from when it got a bit complicated. It just needed more batshit-craziness.
Once up on the space station, working with ISS chief scientist Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara), a forebearingly calm woman who only mildly takes the piss out of him, Jake has to find the malfunction as computers go haywire and access is denied, denied, denied.
Back on Earth, Max is trying to work out who could be behind the growing disaster. And there are 1000 storm warnings as enormous hailstones smash cars in Tokyo, and tsunamis hit Dubai, which if they take out all the holidaying footballers’ wives and minor British soap stars also means no more Daily Mail Sidebar Of Shame.
But just because the world is in its greatest peril doesn’t mean you can’t have two very different brothers constantly bickering, bringing up old slights from childhood that should be long-forgotten.
I’m guessing all that’s stopping Jake (the grizzled, non-conformist, rule-breaking, smiley one) not lamping Max (the annoying one) as his younger brother continually pulls rank on him, is the thousands of miles of space between them. Frankly, Max is a bit of a dick and I wondered what his enjoyably kick-ass Secret Service Secret Girlfriend Sarah (Abbie Cornish) saw in him.
There is a moral of sorts, about when protection becomes a weapon, and every failsafe can ultimately be used against you.
But why is all this even happening? “you say genocide, I said pre-emptive strike” says someone and no I won’t name them (not here anyway – I’ve named them in the spoiler section below). Motivations are mixed, and – as is often the case where scriptwriters are trying to avoid East/West ideological battles and any mention of religion – a bit weak. Why do bad guys always offer their services for so little cash? Hold out for more if you’re going to destroy the world! There’s also a bit about playing god, as in: “science is all about playing god”.
Butler is a good-natured presence and believable in a rather daft space-hero-by-numbers role. He also only lurches into Scottish once. The network of satellites above the planet looks good and Jake’s boyish enthusiasm for space and for his creation when he finally gets back on a shuttle is sweetly done.
The supporting cast is impressive: Garcia, Ed Harris as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom. Jim Sturgess may have been good, it was hard to tell as I was so distracted by his terrible haircut (think Ronnie Wood on a teenager).
There are the tentative beginnings of a romance between Jake and Ute which I really hoped would go somewhere, though I guess it’s impossible to kiss with those spacesuit helmets on. (Jake is divorced, and Hannah, his daughter, is far more eloquent at 13 than I am at 46. Whenever I heard her speak I felt like she was telling off all the adults in the world, ever.)
And please someone, give Dana (Zazie Beetz), the White House hacking whizz, her own weather-and-computer-related sequel. She’s terrific – helping out Max, all her interactions are peppered with a rather bored, dark wit until she gets something really exciting to do involving lines of indecipherable green computer code and some flashing red things.
But the person I wanted to expire under a bombardment of hailstones, tornados and ice was Duncan (Robert Sheehan), an annoying Brit on the ISS. I said in my Logan Lucky review that it was a bad move having Seth MacFarlane playing an irritating Brit as we have loads of our own who could’ve been used, and here’s one right here who is so annoying I take it all back. More Seth please!
More freak weather events would have let the movie reach its full potential but ultimately Geostorm is entertaining fun that loves its audience. And I’m sure some of that audience will be sneery but I’ll be too busy shrieking “I literally had to fly in from outer space!” whenever I’m late for anything, which is quite often.
Watch the Geostorm trailer, and scroll down for spoilers:
On the ground, US Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom (Ed Harris) is behind it all, not the President – Jake had thought it was President Palma (Andy Garcia). Dekkom wants to create a Geostorm to get rid of all of America’s enemies overnight, returning us to the situation in 1945 when American was proud, etc etc. By killing everyone in “the line of succession” to the presidency he can become President.
On the space station, the virus – which turns out to have been released by annoying Brit Duncan Taylor, because he wasn’t paid enough – spreads through the satellites which malfunction, creating terrible weather disasters on Earth, that will link up to form a geostorm and kill millions of people.
Jake realises if they launch the replacement satellites quickly they will knock out the malfunctioning ones. But just when things are gong so well, the self-destruct mechanism starts (it had been included in case the space station ever fell to Earth). Everyone goes to the shuttles. Commander Ute offers to stay but Jake says he will – someone has to manually input the kill codes to shut down the self-destruct.
In Orlando at the Democratic National Convention, Max realises Dekkom is behind everything. It turns out the President doesn’t just have the kill codes, he is the kill codes as they are biometric. Sarah causes a disturbance so the President has to be whisked away from the conference centre. They get him into a car and drive, pursued by Dekkom, and explain what is going on.
They manage to capture Dekkom, and Max takes the President to the Kennedy Space Centre where Palma logs in from Earth. Max talks to Jake and Jake admits the kill codes will stop the geostorm but not the self-destruct. He rushes to manually upload the codes, and finds Ute hasn’t left after all. Together they upload them and reboot the system just in time: the geostorm is averted, the virus removed, and the system handed back over to NASA.
The space station is exploding around them so they get into a satellite still waiting to launch, and launch it to get as far away from the blast as possible.
Their distress signal is picked up on Earth and one of the shuttles turns around and picks them up. They make it to earth safely, and on the tarmac Jake meets Max’s fiancee Sarah for the first time. It is at this point he reverts to Scottish.
Oh and the little dog in India, and his little owner, SURVIVE! (That’s why you read to the end, isn’t it.)
Oh there’s more! we find out that months later Jake is back working for Dutch Boy which is now run by international committee.