'Don't Look Up' review: Armageddon in the age of idiocracy
The end of the world gets turned into a politicized hashtag in Adam McKay's latest, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.
A comet is hurtling toward Earth, and in just over six months it will hit the coast of Chile and end all life on the planet. But first up, TikTok sensation Addison Rae is here to talk about her new viral dance video!
The above scenario — both the comet and the way it might be handled on morning TV — is not all that far fetched, and it's the topic of "Don't Look Up," writer-director Adam McKay's spot-on satire about the end of the world as we know it, and how everyone feels fine.
McKay doesn't feel fine. But he channels his frustration with science deniers, bought and paid for politicians, smartphone culture, the celebrity industrial complex, modern media and our collective, rampant stupidity into a singularly funny, smart, eye-opening indictment on where we're at today. A lot of it hits a little too close to home and you might watch it with your hands over your eyes, but that's the point.
Jennifer Lawrence is Michigan State University astronomer and PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky who, one night while listening to Wu-Tang Clan, discovers a comet barreling through the sky and heading toward our humble planet. She calls her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) to share her findings. He confirms her discovery, runs the numbers and finds the comet has just six-and-a-half months until impact, at which point it will wipe us clean, an extinction level event. Bye-bye, see ya, take care, brush your hair.
They run the news up the flagpole. Along with Dr. Clayton "Teddy" Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), a scientist who helps them get the word out, they score a meeting at the White House with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), a dolt who proudly displays pictures of herself with Steven Seagal in the Oval Office, whose pampered son Jason (Jonah Hill) is her Chief of Staff. When Kate and Randall finally get some facetime with Madame President, they tell her of the impending doom they're facing. Her spin, after hearing the impact will have the effect of 1 billion Hiroshimas, is to call the damage "potentially significant."
Kate and Randall take their crusade to the media instead, and are booked on "The Daily Rip," a chipper morning news program hosted by the cheery team of Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) and Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett). They won't let the duo say anything without following up with a quick quip, and when Kate bluntly shares the fate of the planet, she's mocked and turned into a meme.
While Kate goes viral in a bad way, Randall is classified as America's "hot scientist" and has his likeness splashed across magazine covers, and as the sudden rush of fame goes to his head, he starts having an affair with "Daily Rip" host Brie. Meanwhile, news of the global apocalypse competes for headlines with the latest details in the the breakup of celebrity couple Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi).
The large ensemble cast also includes Mark Rylance as creepily disconnected tech CEO Peter Isherwell, who sees a way to profit off the comet and help mine it for smartphone materials; Ron Perlman as Colonel Ben Drask, a racist old codger who is sent to space to try to blow up the comet; and Timothée Chalamet as a young revolutionary who hooks up with Kate.
It's all very recognizable and none too subtle, with McKay updating "Idiocracy" through a doomsday scenario and a 2021 lens. It's been 15 years since Mike Judge lampooned our culture with his prophetic satire, and McKay — who graduated from bro comedies "Anchorman" and "Step Brothers" to the grown-up fare of "The Big Short" and "Vice" — similarly savages our modern times and our inability to grasp anything that's not spoon fed to us with a heaping helping of sugar. Large swaths of "Don't Look Up" hit way too close for comfort.
McKay hits a bullseye when taking on the big picture, he only falters when he deals with the reactions of ordinary, everyday people on the ground, which feel romanticized and overly sincere. But that shows that he believes in the empathy and the good of people, and their concerns that are overshadowed by all the bright shiny objects that tend to monopolize our attention. He cares, and if that's his flaw, it's not a bad one to have.
"Don't Look Up" is able to laugh at our culture while also expressing deep concerns about the state we find ourselves in. It's here to wish you a very pleasant end of times.
'Don't Look Up'
Rated R: for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity and drug content
Running time: 138 minutes
In theaters and on Netflix