‘Geostorm’ Entertains Despite Heavy-Handed Approach to Climate Change

Gerard Butler in "Geostorm". Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Sarah Wells
BU News Service

As filmgoers, we love to be scared. There are almost no limits to the types of ghouls and demons that have graced our screens. Often, these terrors represent deeper social or psychological fears, like vampires or zombies, but sometimes the most unsettling stories are the ones that fall too close to reality.

This Halloween, that film is “Geostorm.”

The sci-fi thriller—written, directed and produced by Dean Devlin—casts climate change and American greed as its antagonists. It opens on a montage of scenes depicting unprecedented extreme weather, including a heat wave which kills hundreds in Spain.

In a year that has seen plane-grounding heat in Phoenix and continual pummeling of the Caribbean by category five hurricanes, it’s clear that these kinds of events are far from fictitious.

Through the film’s voiceover narration, we learn that scientists and diplomats from 17 countries came together in a massive international effort to stop these storms. Led by ambiguously credentialed engineer Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), the team creates a network of satellites controlled by technicians on the International Space Station that are capable of taming the intense storms.

The science of these weather taming satellites is uncertain at best. Perhaps the film is drawing upon real life solutions posed by scientists, such as carbon capture or injecting sulfur into our atmosphere, but it is never thoroughly explained. Whatever they did, it’s working.

Until it isn’t.

The meat of the film picks up as Lawson is reprimanded in Washington D.C. for his unauthorized activation of the satellite network, which the characters have lovingly named Dutch Boy. Lawson is sarcastic, egotistical and all around bullheaded in his approach, which his Department of State employee brother, Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess), bemoans from the sides.

With a hand-over of Dutch Boy from the United States to an international coalition on the horizon, Jake is removed from the project entirely, fired by his own little brother.

It appears as if the hand-off will go over without a hitch until catastrophic weather begins to grip the planet again. First, an ice storm freezes an entire village in Afghanistan. Then lava erupts from beneath the streets of Hong Kong.

Begrudgingly, the United States decides to send a technician to the space station to work with the crew to investigate the malfunctions. After a tense reunion, full of awkwardly injected family backstory, Max convinces his brother to return to his station.

From there, the plot continues to unfurl at a surprisingly engaging pace. Both on Earth and in space, suspicious malfunctions continue to plague the planet and the Lawson brothers begin to doubt that it is a  coincidence.

As the catastrophic storms increase, they approach a dangerous threshold—a geostorm—from which the planet will be unable to recover. Fighting sources of corruption at the very heart of the United States government, it is up to the Lawsons to save Earth from destruction.

While “Geostorm” may be lacking Oscar-worthy writing or performances, the film is by far more enjoyable than many might have suspected.

While the dialogue could have certainly used a few more revisions, the cast of characters was not lacking in flavor. From Max Lawson’s kickass secret service girlfriend, Sarah (Abbie Cornish), to a sarcastic and clever young cybersecurity employee, Dana (Zazie Beetz), the film is full of redeeming moments.

One thing that the film is not, however, is subtle.

It concludes with the quote, “As long as we remember we share one future, we will survive.” While inspiring, it’s unclear what the moral responsibility of films like “Geostorm” (which some have termed “cli-fi,” short for climate fiction) should have to their viewers. 

Following on the heels of a shocking New York Magazine piece this summer, “Uninhabitable Earth,” the question about climate change today is not whether it’s real, but rather how we can rally to meet it. “Geostorm” offers a rosy depiction of human resistance in the face of our own hubris induced destruction, but what will it take for us to meet the ideals the film depicts?

1 Comment

  • It concludes with the quote, “As long as we remember we share one future, we will survive.” While inspiring, it’s unclear what the moral responsibility of films like “Geostorm” (which some have termed “cli-fi,” short for climate fiction) should have to their viewers. Yes see the Cli-Fi Report Sarah, at cli-fi.net

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