Adam McKay has pointed his satirical pen and camera at the worlds of finance and politics; with Don’t Look Up, he proposes that it is the end of the world as we know it… and we definitely are not feeling fine!
After discovering a “planet killer” comet on a collision course with Earth, two scientists are frustrated to be met with ambivalence by politicians, media and the general public.
McKay deserves credit for not only assembling a cast full of more stars than our galaxy but also bringing Jennifer Lawrence back into the acting orbit. After some over-exposure and burnout, she returns with a renewed energy and is the perfect vitriolic foil to Leonardo DiCaprio‘s paranoid Dr. Mindy.
Ever since he finally won his Oscar in 2014, DiCaprio has been flexing acting muscles previously unknown to the public. Not only does he play against type by having an affair with a woman his own age, but following his meme-inspiring turn in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, he successfully tries his hand at comedy. His character goes on a Dark Knight-esque “you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain” arc before getting a pitch-perfect The Social Network-style rant – one even angrier than Mark Kermode’s opinion of Jared Leto’s performance in House Of Gucci.
A film about the end of the world reminds us, if anything, that time is precious. With that in mind, any film with a runtime of 145 minutes needs to justify it. Does Don’t Look Up? No, it does not. Similar to the failed plan to split the comet into smaller, less dangerous pieces, the issue is that instead of focusing on one particular target, McKay takes aim at too many. There is criticism of the government, the media, news corporations, conspiracy theorists, vacuous pop stars, etc, etc. The results are more misfires than direct hits.
It is fascinating to watch this film in context with other Hollywood movies about the end of the world. Think back to the mid-to-late Nineties. Films like Armageddon and Independence Day, where the world pulled together to fight for survival. Presidents would get in a plane and join the fight. Even in something like Air Force One, while not facing a planetary threat, showed the President as a hero. Fast forward to 2021. Five years on from the year of Trump and Brexit and it is not difficult to see a shift in how governments and world leaders are presented on film. No longer figures of hope and inspiration, they are instead the punchline for a bad joke.
While the world is holding out for a hero, Don’t Look Up is simply a cautionary tale. Despite some clever gags (there is a terrific running joke about the cost of snacks at the White House), unlike Comet Dibiasky, the film ultimately runs out of steam and fails to make a deep impact.
Don’t Look Up is in select cinemas from December 10th and available to stream on Netflix from December 24th.