This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Doublej2005’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
As much as I don't like this film, I sure as well do appreciate it. I like that it's blunt and honest, and I think that this film, in another universe, would have really worked. Unfortunately we're living in the universe in which this is directed by Adam McKay, and that means that this film just isn't very good. I think the most frustrating thing about this film is that I initially struggled to articulate what I didn't like about it, but I think I've just about worked it out. I have lots of thoughts on this so this review might be really scattered, but here we go.
The performances are mostly good. I actually really liked Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill, and the whole White House satire (waiting till midterms, having fall people to make up for mistakes, funded by billionaires etc) worked quite well for me. The problem with the satirical elements is that McKay tries to play at Internet culture and 'normies' reacting to this event, and it's so, so preachy. It's like the post credits scene from Vice - Adam McKay seems to see himself as some sort of prophet, spreading valuable information in the minds of the ignorant common folk. The old adage of 'punch up, not down' has seemingly been ignored by McKay, as he fails to understand the reasons that people get caught up in conspiracy theories, and rather prefers to present them as stupid. They are obviously stupid and wrong, but it doesn't take much to realise that there's more to it than people being inherently evil, and it just makes McKay feel so out of touch, and as if he has no understanding of what normal people think and feel.
He also has no real respect for his characters. One of the reasons I liked The Big Short is that he actually cares for the characters, and gives them genuine arcs and motivations on top of the messages of the films. In this, however, Leo's character is just a complete scum. I don't understand why he cheats with Cate Blanchett's obviously evil character. J Law I suppose is the one you're meant to root for more, and I did somewhat, but there just isn't much to grasp beyond her initial anger at people not listening to her. Timothee Chalamet probably has one of the best characters, and the religious aspect of his character gave him some genuine depth that was much appreciated. Ron Perlman was funny, and a good example of the genuinely really over the top satire this could have been. The fact that the two best characters in the film for me are complete opposites in how they are presented shows how I really wanted this film to just pick whether it wanted to be really over the top or tell a more emotional story, rather than trying to do both. Having Ariana Grande be the singer that makes the song raising awareness about the asteroid is either the cleverest or least self aware casting decision of all time, and I'm really not sure which (also the song is like really bad, but I think (hope) that's the point so I'll let it slide). Rob Morgan was fine, but he didn't really get that much to do. And last but not least, Mark Rylance is really not very good. I mean I guess he was trying a lot at least, but it just bordered on offensive the entire time. Rylance is a genuinely good actor though so I more blame the direction in this case.
Speaking of the direction, it's not bad. Perfectly serviceable. The problem is that the editing is so bad. Look, I don't like McKay's style of constant pausing and putting lots of things on screen overlapping and stuff, but I've come to terms with most of it. But I still don't understand why he flashes to pictures of polar bears and trees and stuff during the tense scenes. I understand the consequences of the world destroying without needing to be shown some cute animals. Also it really seems like each scene ended about 5 seconds too early, and I don't understand why at all. This is going to seem tacked on to this paragraph, but I really liked the score - Nicholas Britell is genuinely a really great composer and has elevated every film he's done music for in the past.
Possibly my biggest problem with this film is that it's just not that funny. I've seen people compare this to Dr Strangelove, which I understand since the topics are very similar. But I think what makes Dr Strangelove a hell of a lot better is it's genuinely funny. Like there are jokes and stuff. I'm fairly sure Adam McKay knows how to write comedy, so there's no excuse for this not being funnier. The joke about paying for the food at the White House is good, just add 2 or 3 more running jokes and this would honestly be so much better.
I do, however, really like the ending. I think it's the only time where McKay really seems to care about his characters, and the blunt honesty of it is something I do like. The performances during the dinner table scene are strong aswell. The messages that we collectively can take away from this film are very strong... it's just a shame it had to come from a film that is so thoroughly mediocre.
So overall, I think this film comes from a place of goodwill, and that the message of listening to science and not being so partisan is a good one. But between the sloppy editing, the self serious nature of this supposed satire and the overall pretentiousness of a lot of the film makes this not worth watching for me. Honestly just watch Parks and Rec, it's ten times the political satire this is.