Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Tyler Perry, Himesh Patel
What better way to start the new year than with a good old-fashioned-yet-futuristic existential crisis? As if constantly dealing with the climate crisis, a pandemic and, well, general mankind and the stupid things we do to hurt our planet and ourselves wasn’t enough, along comes Adam McKay with an all-star cast to remind us that it could all be ended by something completely out of our control, as the dinosaurs once found out (oh to be a non-cognizant beast with no concept of science or burden of knowledge). If you can bring yourself to sit through 2+ hours of an apocalyptic nightmare (and one that could potentially be very real, even if not in our lifetime), will you find some semblance of joy in the wider message and McKay’s overall satire, or might you be left sitting up all night pondering the meaning of life and cursing McKay’s film and his own existence?
Astronomy Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) discovers a comet that is on a direct course for Earth. She informs her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio), and he calculates that the comet will hit the planet in six months’ time, with it being big enough to cause an extinction event. Kate and Randall inform NASA, who’s own head of Planetary Defence, Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Morgan), helps them to take the news to the top – that being the White House and the President, Janie Orlean (Streep). Kate, Randall, and Teddy come up against a lot of cynicism and general apathy from the government, and eventually divide the public at large on the existence of the comet itself when they take informing the public into their own hands.
From the off it’s clear to see that McKay is providing his own commentary on the climate crisis and the lack of action from the American government (and the world in general). His satire revolves largely around the Presidency, reflecting how many feel about the Trump administration, and the inability to see what’s right in front of them with clear evidence. Some people will absolutely see the humour in this – we are essentially causing our own destruction. It’s the ultimate dark humour. Others may not see this so clearly – what’s so funny about ignorance? McKay tries to keep a sort of balance between serious and humourous, however there is really a distinction between causing our own demise through our own actions (or inactions, as it were) and being unable to help ourselves if we can’t destroy a comet that’s coming for us. Indeed, one course makes is seem like we ought to be able to laugh at our insignificance in the universe, but the other serves as a blatant reminder of our lack of care in what we do. Without giving too much away for those yet to see this movie, Orlean’s government does try to stop the comet at one point but, of course, politics and greed get in the way. Do their actions really matter? Would we really be able to defend ourselves against such a thing? McKay tries to explore our options, but it kind of falls flat where the social commentary is concerned – the satire, while trying to lighten the mood in many ways, doesn’t really mesh well with the themes.
Why is it that even when they’ve tried to make DiCaprio not look attractive, he still very much is, in your everyman kind of way? As always, he can be counted on to deliver in his performance, beautified or not. He gives us anguish and fear and sadness and hope in a way that only he can, and it serves the film well. Similarly, Lawrence gets to divert a little from her more serious roles and throw some humour our way, but mostly ironically – we want to laugh at her character for acting somewhat absurdly, and yet knowing what we know (that classic dramatic irony), we can’t bring ourselves to laugh. As a pair, they shoulder the movie between them and carry us through. Streep and Hill bounce off each other nicely and provide much of McKay’s satire, while Blanchett and Perry keep things familiar with their back-and-forth as hosts of an annoyingly positive television show. The general supporting cast do a fine job in their respective roles. Grande and Mescudi – aka Kid Cudi – are probably the most humourous of the movie, with their roles still satirical but in a more obvious and fun kind of way. Chalamet’s role is one that feels rather out of place – sure, he provides a religious grounding in many ways, something you’d expect to see in an end-of-the-world film, but he doesn’t feel necessary to the plot in any way.
If McKay’s intention was to make things somewhat light-hearted at the end of all things, I wouldn’t say he has been entirely successful. This isn’t a laugh-or-cry situation: it’s a maybe-laugh-until-you-cry kind of devastation. It feels like watching someone try to make a joke about a serious situation that is perhaps just a tad too soon – let’s try to save our world first before we can start being satirical about it. Unless you want to educate people by joking around until it’s not funny anymore, don’t bother. Having said that, it does have its entertaining points, mostly around the pairings of some of the actors. It’s also fun to spot the odd cameo. So, if you’re not down for an existential crisis right now, avoid this movie like, well, the plague. If you feel you really need to laugh at a situation that mirrors reality, that’s understandable, because what’s the alternative? Just don’t forget that there is a real world fighting every day to survive, whether we’re laughing or not.