Deep Impact and Armageddon hit multiplexes two months apart in 1998, causing Earth to brace for two annihilation disasters. In Don’t Look Up, released twenty-three years later, Hollywood is once again sending an extinction-level comet hurtling through space toward humanity. Those previous films, on the other hand, opted for sincere melodrama and big, dumb yippee-ki-kay heroics. It’s really only fitting that we get the end-of-the-world film we deserve in 2021 — a cynical, insufferably arrogant farce loaded to the gills with stars that professes to comment on political and media inattention to the climate issue but ultimately trivialises it. It ain’t Dr. Strangelove.
The film will have a limited theatrical run beginning December 10 before premiering on Netflix on December 24, and no doubt some will find its easy digs at a shamelessly self-dealing White House administration, a monolithic tech company, the vapidity of upbeat morning television, and the outsized influence of social media amusing. I didn’t do it.
Since rebranding with The Big Short and Vice from slapstick comedies to Important Issues Satire, writer-director Adam McKay has specialised in films that make audiences feel superior to amoral conservatives, piously self-satisfied liberals, and insatiably avaricious capitalists. What they usually don’t deliver is depth, complexity, or any kind of intelligent curiosity, preferring instead to dazzle the audience with plenty of quick talk, smart-assy pseudo-cleverness, and cartoonishly obvious characterizations.
This new feature amplifies those flaws to the point where I was almost immediately antagonistic to Don’t Look Up. The mere fact that a dizzying array of great talent has been squandered is enough to irritate. “I want to die gently in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in anguish like his passengers,” McKay begins with a classic joke by comic Jack Handey. Would that this drab apocalyptic whoopee cushion had something half as amusing on it.