Adam Mackay’s Don’t Look Up is a disaster movie for the pandemic era, skewering pretty much every extraordinary twist and turn of human nature and human behaviour we’ve witnessed, often in disbelief, across the last couple of years. Two unexceptional astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) discover a previously uncharted comet just outside the orbit of Jupiter. It’s the size of the Himalayas and it’s on a collision course with Earth. It’s a 'planet killer' and it will cause an Extinction Level Event. Under normal cinematic circumstances, we’d call for Bruce Willis and send him up in a big rocket full of nuclear bombs and then sit back and wait for the slow-motion moment of triumph when humanity is saved following a nail-biting close shave or two. But we’re living in different times and, as we’ve seen lately, people are a little bit more sceptical, a lot more self-obsessed and, sadly, considerably stupider they were back in the simpler days of Armageddon and Deep Impact.
Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) and Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) secure an audience at the White House and dutifully trot along with NASA’s Planetary Defence Co-Ordination Office head honcho Dr Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) for an audience with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her Chief of Staff son Jason (Jonah Hill). Unfortunately, the President and her son are idiots and treat the news with barely-concealed disbelief and disinterest. Dibiasky and Mindy leak the news on a morning talk show but they and their news are treated as a joke and the pair become the butt of increasing online mockery and hostility. No one is interested and no one believes them. Only when the President is involved in a sex scandal does she decide to take action by confirming that the threat is real and launching a project designed to divert the comet with nuclear weapons. But the mission is aborted shortly after launch when oily multi-billionaire tech giant Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) reveals that the comet actually contains trillions of dollars worth of rare-earth elements that the US Government can exploit commercially if they follow Isherwood’s scheme to launch weaponised drones into the comet which will break into fragments that can be recovered from the ocean. Needless to say, things don’t quite go according to plan…
Don’t Look Up is a sizzling, coruscating, and biting satire on the modern world and our collective priorities. No one in the motley cast of characters really comes out of this with much credit. DiCaprio’s Dr Mindy has the world’s safety as his priority until he is flattered and seduced by talk show host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and takes his eye firmly off the apocalyptic ball. A disillusioned Dibiasky, tormented by the fact that White House staff have been charging her and Mindy for refreshments which are actually free, returns home and hooks up with shop-lifting slacker Yule (Timothee Chalamet). The human race itself is divided on the issue of the comet; many believe it will create mass world employment opportunities, others demand that the comet be destroyed, some don’t even believe it exists. Mindy’s 'Just Look Up' campaign to awaken the population to the threat is countered by the President’s 'Don’t Look Up' campaign encouraging people to quite literally look the other way.
If this all sounds uncomfortably familiar then congratulations, you have so far survived the Covid pandemic and witnessed the idiocy and stupidity of both those who purport to lead us and those who look to be led. The world, Don’t Look Up warns us, is a conflicted wall of sound and fury, angry people who stand by their own opinions no matter how irrational and dangerous, and people who aren’t fit for purpose or office who are, inevitably, just looking out for themselves and their rich and powerful friends. Don’t Look Up’s humour is simultaneously sharp and blunt; it takes no prisoners and no one on Earth gets a pass. It’s not a film without its flaws, though; it’s perhaps slightly too long and some of the crasser humour misses the mark like… well, a close call from a comet. But strong performances from a superb cast paper over the cracks – Mark Rylance is especially stunning as an obsequious, softly-spoken Elon Musk type, and the finale, which sails right over the top and goes literally into orbit, is as terrifying as the rest of the film has been depressingly on-the-nail. Mid and post-credit scenes are laugh-out-loud funny too. Don’t look up, don’t look down, look straight ahead; don’t miss Don’t Look Up.
Don’t Look Up is available to stream on Netflix.