In Defense of Geostorm

Geostorm was slammed by critics, and struggled at the box office. But one man wants to fight its corner. Again.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Geostorm, then. We’re back here. A film that finally popped up in cinemas last year, after a gestation period that could best be described as on the difficult side. The brainchild of writers Paul Guyot and Independence Day producer and writer Dean Devlin, it was quickly sneered at, dismissed, and filed as fodder to do stories along the lines of ‘Warner Bros will lose $xm on Geostorm hur hur’.

But you know what? I really liked the film then. And I really like it now. And I wanted to have a bit of a chat about it.

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Back in October

“This guy is the editor of Den Of Geek”, wrote one of our fine readers under the review of Geostorm I penned and we published when the film first came out. “And he gave this pile of ship four stars”. A fine way to get past the swear filter there, I thought. Don’t you all start trying it.

“This website has lost all credibility with that review”, said another.

“You gave this movie four stars out of five. Let’s just think about that for a second”, someone else added.

I’ve not named the commenters concerned for two reasons. One, I’m not calling anyone out here: their comments were constructive, after all. Two, each has their point, and I thought it fair to air them, as a subset of the criticism that the film has come in for since it struggled to make an impact last autumn.

It’s the last of those three comments I’ve cited that really stuck with me, though. Because I’ve thought about it a lot. I did indeed give Geostorm four stars out of five, and I would do so again. But I figured, with the film now heading to disc, it was worth a conversation about it.

I will confess that when I popped the disc in my player to catch the film for the first time since its cinema release, I wondered if I’d muddled it. I’ve no intention of being one of those people who gives a film a contrary review to make a name for myself, but when lots of people tell you that you’re wrong, a little doubt is a natural extension of that. But I watched the film again. And again, as it happened. And I really enjoyed it.

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“Dutch Boy”

I should state up front genuinely think Geostorm is something of a fluke.

The vast majority of productions that go through the kind of gestation and production that this one did are spat out at the other end in often a very sorry state. A compromise of ideas, films that struggle to find any fun. Especially when, as is the case here, another director (Danny Cannon) comes in to handle a bunch of expensive reshoots in the midst of it all.

But conversely, I reckon that for every 500 films that happens with, you get one that somehow comes out in really good, entertaining shape. I think Geostorm is that film. And none of that guilty pleasure nonsense, either. I just happened to really enjoy it.

There are two films at least fighting for attention here, then, and it’s notable that the one element of the film that appeared to have been dialled back as a consequence of its reshoot work was, well, its Geostorm. A Geostorm, it’s explained, is a very bad weather event, and it’s thanks to ‘Dutch Boy’, the splendidly named weather defence network that Gerard Butler would have you believe he built by hand that the world is safe.

But! Courtesy of Toby from The West Wing being a dick at the start of the film, Butler is chucked off the Dutch Boy project by his brother – Jim Sturgess, no obvious family likeness – and Butler is left to brood for three years, and try and repair the relationship with his young daughter. The film is cramming in a lot of story, and bashing through it fast.

What I love, though, is that in the midst of what could have been a fairly straight down the line weather thriller is that Geostorm lugs in a presidential assassination film as well. It’s a wise move, as there’s not quite enough fuel in either story to sustain a full feature, but together, it means the pace of the film is swift, and there’s much to enjoy.

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In fact, there are lots of ingredients here, and the movie bothers to service them all to varying degrees. The core breakdown of the relationship with Burgess and Butler. Sturgess’ romance with Abbie Cornish – can they keep it secret? – that was apparently added in part in the reshoots. Butler’s aforementioned daughter. A whodunnit. Fixing things in space. Techno thriller. It’s a mash-up – and not always a tidy one (as a scribe on Empire pointed out to me, how often do you see a film where there’s a scene of a movie star going into space, complete with rocket take offs, and it’s over in half a minute?) – with things smashed together and fighting for attention. But conversely, it packs a lot in, and consistently remembers this is supposed to be entertaining.

My favourite scene

About half way through Geostorm, the two brothers, Sturgess and Butler, have something of a reconciliation. They do it via the medium of a giant video screen, with Sturgess on Earth, Butler in space. As Sturgess’ character muses, it’s the first decent conversation they’ve had in years.

It’s the one that features Butler’s sage, inspirational poster monologue, where he recalls the story of their dad – a government spy, no less – taking his sons fishing. Hours, they spent, and didn’t catch a thing. But as Butler tells us, “I’d rather not catch fish with my family, than catch 20 fish alone”.

I’m convinced someone was in on how brilliantly all over the shop those lines sound. Heck, Butler follows it up by saying “I didn’t even understand what he meant by that. But I do now”.

Remember Con Air? Remember that monologue from Nicolas Cage at the start, where he’s writing letters to his daughter from his prison cell? I was convinced that they were in on the joke there, and I’m convinced that the writers are in on the joke with Geostorm too.

For what then follows is cinema’s most hilarious code breaking scheme (and one that, to give the film its due, is actually seeded in a line of dialogue some 20 minutes in). Sturgess breaks the sage news that “our dad never took us fishing”, and thus realises there’s a hidden code in what Butler is saying. Thanks to some keyboard bashing, Sturgess then realises that their dad’s cellphone number is code for which words of Butler’s we need to pay attention to.

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Some more keyboard bashing later, and we learn that Butler has sent a coded message about sabotage and government corruption. All done in a three minute sequence. Perfect.

“Who came up with this encryption? A 12-year old?” “No. I was 13.”

Now I’m not blind to the faults of Geostorm, and ironically, it’s when the weather threat escalates that I think it loses some of its energy. A scene where rockets tumble into each other can’t help but take you out of the film, and question why the rockets would be so close to each other in the first place.

But you know what? I think the rest of it works. I do also think that it’s solid ensemble cast – you get bonus Ed Harris and Andy Garcia too – really commit to it, and put in really effective work.

I don’t think it aims for high intelligence (which is putting it mildly, not least when the aforementioned assassination plot escalates), but I also think that when the footage from the original filming and the reshoots was put together, that the editors – Chris Lebenzon, John Refoua and Ron Rosen – realised that there was an entertaining film in the midst of all of this. More than that, in fact: a really entertaining, pacey movie, that if they cut to a lean running time, would belt along and give people a really good night out at the movies.

And that’s what I take from the movie. Every time I’ve watched the film, I’ve found it really, really fun. It’s not high art, but why does it have to be? What’s wrong with ridiculously good fun? For all its many faults, I comfortably found Geostorm in the 20 most entertaining new movies I watched last year. Not the top 20 best. But the top 20 most fun. As I’m getting older, I really appreciate films that have that at their heart.

“Everyone was warned, but no one listened”

I do wonder if there’s room for films like Geostorm in the Metacritic/Rotten Tomatoes/crowd-focused world of a lot of film reviewing today, that there are people who are afraid to admit they like things, and afraid to admit they don’t.

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I see this a lot, and have had assorted conversations with enough people who review films in one form or another to know there’s a strong thread of truth to it. I don’t think it’s just film reviewers, either. There’s the phrase I mentioned earlier – ‘guilty pleasures’ – that I’m not a fan of, that seems to be a shorthand for ‘I like something that the mob has decreed I’m not allowed to like’. I cited Terminal Velocity, the 1990s sky-diving action thriller, in my original review of the film. I’d throw in the Christopher Lambert-headlined Fortress. I love films like that. Tinged with trash, but with a core that works.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve not felt the pressure to alter my view on something too. In a previous life, I used to review videogames, and I made an offhand slight against a particular title in a magazine article once. I meant it, but what I didn’t know was that it would inspire someone to set up an entire webpage attacking me for having that view. This wasn’t a Facebook post, either. They did it using Geocities. That’s commitment.

After that, for a short period, whenever I was submitting a review to the magazine in question, I checked to see what everyone else was saying. I was scared of exposing myself again like that.

As I’ve got older and less wise, I’m not willing to play that game. But in hindsight, I admit, I knew I was in for a bashing for admitting how much I liked Geostorm, and for half a day, I toyed with playing it safe and giving the film three stars.

And let’s face it, I could have got away with that. The movie’s no masterpiece, is it? It’s a cauldron of ideas, a mashing together of an abundance of plots. Had I penned a nice, safe, two or three star review, this article wouldn’t exist, this site would have credibility, and people wouldn’t – for that reason at least – be questioning my suitability to edit this site.

But I’d say this: if I hadn’t gone with what I truly felt, I wouldn’t be suitable to edit this site. I’ve had more criticism for liking this film than any other in the last year or two, but that doesn’t in any way change how much I enjoy it.

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And that, ultimately, was my defence of the film then, and remains it now. Geostorm, for me, succeeds, and succeeds well, as a piece of flat-out entertainment. I don’t think that’s an easy thing for a film to do, and I remember going to see Justice League a few weeks later, and just aching for any sense of the fun that a film like Geostorm captures.

So yeah: I still think it’s a four star piece of fun. I’m still Team Geostorm. And I still want a cinematic universe of films of this ilk, if someone out there could oblige.

One final thing: even if you don’t like Geostorm, why not pop in the comments the films that you enjoy for what they are, in spite of the critical masses telling you that you’re not allowed? I’d be interested in your recommendations…