One wonders whether the events of the past two years have helped or hurt Don’t Look Up. Adam Mckay’s (director/writer of Anchorman, The Big Short and Vice) satire of humanity’s collective refusal to listen to scientists feels more relevant than ever yet also lacks any sense of subtlety after months of living through similar events. Any negative outlook on the film created by recent events is a shame because when taken on its own merits we have an amusing comedy with a stellar cast that is never afraid to dwell away from serious and tragic commentary. Mckay certainly has a level of smugness which stops the film from being a truly great piece of satire but it still remains an amusing look into the end of the world.
We follow astronomy professor Dr Mindy and his student Kate who discover a comet that in six months time will hit the Earth and wipe out all life. However after informing the president of the US they are met with only apathy, a trend which continues as they also try to tell the general public and the media. From here the two scientists must find ways to get the word out on the danger that faces humanity so that something can be done before total annihilation.
The film is intended to be a satire on the world’s inaction to stop global warming in spite of its threat though as said earlier it has some parallels with the response to the COVID pandemic of the last two years (despite being written before it began). Most of the comedy comes from a sense of tension arising from people being so focused on media gossip, irrelevant scandals and supporting their side in political debates before they consider the larger threat. Jokes manage to be simultaneously absurd yet unfortunately realistic for what might happen if this actually occurred. It’s genuinely funny as the kind of good satire that can easily be related to the insanity of real life.
There is however an aura of smugness and heavy handedness around the satire which should be familiar to anyone who watched McKay’s previous film Vice. While it never being funny it dies feel like the film is talking down to its audience when it constantly jokes about how stupid most people are. While the message of the film isn’t necessarily wrong it does feel like it is the kind of movie whose message will be ignored by the people who need to listen to it the most. As such the film falls short of reaching the Dr. Strangelove level of truly great satire that are able to deliver the message without feeling like they are above their audience.
Instead the film exchanges subtlety with a certain level of anger at the populace for complacency which slowly turns to tragedy. While always being comedic the film never forgets the real human cost and how depressing it is that mankind is at risk because of something that is so easily avoidable. With the final half hour of the film becoming an unexpected emotional journey as the full weight of the story comes crashing down.
The cast is star studded and perfectly put together with stars Jenniefer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio taking a rare turn to comedy playing the straight men scientists at the center of revealing the comet to the world. Not their most interesting roles but they are given enough humanity to make them sympathetic as the emotional core of the film. Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry are perfectly sleazy as two talk show hosts trying to divert attention away from the comet. Meryl Streep as the president is entertaining as a self absorbed narcissist who clearly has no care for her people. The best performance though comes unexpectedly from Mark Rylance who embodies the pure evil of a cold hearted businessman trying to use the comet for his own economic benefit.
Don’t Look Up has the subtlety of a comet hitting the Earth yet still provides an entertainingly comedic look into the dangers of refusing to listen to scientists. Recent events make the film feel both uncomfortable yet timely which along with a larger than life cast lead to Adam McKay mostly making up for the failings of Vice for an enjoyable piece of political and social satire.