Starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu.
The world is a terrible place. No but seriously, it is. The environment is completely messed up, there’s an orange in the White House, Anjelica Huston from the Witches is running our country and nuclear war is on the horizon. That’s probably why people love a good disaster movie; a little Hollywood escapism that can distract us for two hours so we can forget that things are going belly up.
In these times of environmental worry, it’s nice that longtime writer-producer now turned director Dean Devlin has decided to turn his mind to recycling old Hollywood parts; or perhaps he’s a cinematic chef offering a masala dish, a Pu Pu Platter of previous films so that we might cleanse our pallet post-Spider-man: Homecoming but pre-Thor: Ragnarok.
Devlin, who was for a while a close friend and frequent collaborator of Roland Emmerich, has taken all the big dumb movies of the past few years and blended them into this smoothie-movie. The story, such as there is one, concerns a future in which weather gets so bad that we create a space station that can control it, but bad people – rather naturally – attempt to use it to destroy most of the world.
The film is filled with plot elements, set pieces and other things from all the movies made in the past twenty years – which is to say, there’s nothing original in it. That’s not necessarily a problem – no one eats in McDonald’s because each burger is lovingly hand made to be individual – but at some points the film does become something of a guessing game of what the film is ripping off now.
Our first main character is Gerard Butler, who is very much doing the Has Fallen character, with added (cliche) child and ex-wife whom he barely sees. His brother is a science boffin type played by the thoroughly uncharismatic Jim Sturgess, who has the unattainably sexy secret-service butt kicking girlfriend Abbie Cornish. Andy Garcia looks bored as the President, and Ed Harris is the besuited political figure.
Not only do our main characters all appear to be on auto-pilot, they also all seem to have picked their characters from previous movies. Butler is Bruce Willis in Armageddon, stuck on a space station with a daughter at home. Sturgess is Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2012, concerned for the future of the world. Cornish is Channing Tatum in White House Down, complete with a Presidential-car-chase moment. Robert Sheehan is Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins with an awful cockney accent, while Zazie Beetz (soon to be in Deadpool 2) is Nathalie Emmanuelle in the Fast & Furious sequels, stuck looking at a computer. Ed Harris is clearly Richard Jenkins in White House Down or possibly John Goodman in Kong: Skull Island, and Andy Garcia is Danny Glover in 2012, when he really needs to be Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact.
Even taking this out of it, the scenes of the space station going boom are ripped right from Independence Day: Resurgence. All the interiors look like a Mission: Impossible set with added Gravity-style space suit flinging, and the global destruction scenes are so CGI laced they have none of the threat of Volcano, Earthquake or even Dwayne Johnson vehicle San Andreas, but seem like 2012 outtakes. There’s the obligatory quipping from every action film, quasi-political underpinning from The Day After Tomorrow and not killing the dog from every film ever made… ever.
That’s not to say the film is awful, it’s not. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. Nobody does unshaven dead beat dad quite like Gerard Butler, channeling the Bruce Willis of yesteryear, and clearly he cares about these big dumb movies. Beetz and Cornish are good fun as the ladies in the film and do manage to actually build characters out of terrible characterisation. Even Ed Harris is good as the authority man, a role he plays like he’s just woken up in it.
The destruction set pieces are also very impressive; a China set fire melt down is the film’s first big action sequence and it’s duck and cover stuff, while the fairly ruthless killing of a Brazilian beach is hard not to feel somewhat moved by. But the film is a little too scattershot to really focus on what it wants to be. The political agenda we’re one planet, one people and we need to work together becomes so overarching it puts the Dick Cheney stand-in from The Day After Tomorrow and that film’s climate conscious agenda to shame.
There’s also a little too much build up, setting up a hard to follow, harder to believe conspiracy thriller aspect that sits ill at ease with the rest of the film that has a near breezy sense of fun. The conspiracy thriller is a serious film, one about chains of command, xenophobia in the White House and America as the big bank that bails the planet out. That’s not what the poster is selling up, the poster is selling us 2012 meets Sunshine, but the build up is too long.
There is also a certain computer overload, much like 2012, which lost it’s peril when the CGI stakes got too high, and failed to connect on an emotional level. The film clearly wants to be like more successful disaster movies which actually had real characters you cared about. The difference here is that while Beetz is funny and Cornish is good, and even Butler pulls his weight, there’s no chemistry between any of the players.
It’s clearly not the best of it’s genre – San Andreas, The Day After Tomorrow, and anything by Irwin Allen do it better, but what it lacks in story or emotion it more than makes up for in big loud booms. Catch it on the biggest possible screen, the loudest possible room, and just let the weather blow you away.