There’s this movie about a giant celestial body that’s going to destroy Earth. In fact, it’s making an impact right now. No, it’s not Michael Bay’s triumph of American ingenuity, heroism, and a father’s love for his daughter that we lovingly call “Armageddon.” Rather, it’s Adam McKay’s really bad and really derivative iteration of that classic of American cinema.
On its surface, “Don’t Look Up,” the film making the above-mentioned impact, should have been equally impactful. It’s got the chick from “X-Men” portraying Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky with Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, her mentor. There are some other people. It’s about a giant comet. We’re all gonna die. But there’s a chance we won’t.
This is really where the two films diverge, and for the worse. This isn’t “Spider-Man: Far from Home” territory, where multiple plotlines and possibilities merge in a glorious synthesis. This is an unnecessary reboot that only serves to remind us of why the original was awesome.
Since this is about “Don’t Look Up,” though, perhaps I should at least discuss it a little. The movie begins with Kate discovering a new comet while working on another project. She calls Dr. Mindy to share news of the discovery. He calculates its size and trajectory and figures out that it was going to destroy the planet, so he calls some other people.
After a few minor twists and turns, the two plus one of the people they called finally get to visit President She-Trump, played by Meryl Streep, who brushes them off until it becomes electorally disadvantageous to do so, then sells them out for some Big Business interest who was overtly distinct enough from Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs to not “plausibly” be either of them.
Naturally, Generic Evil Business Guy Who Totally Isn’t Zuck Or Jobs takes over the mission to try to mine the comet for its rare-earth elements. I mean, why would a company need to do that, especially since comets are giant balls of ice, unlike asteroids that are made of metals?
In response to this, Dr. Mindy shrieks a lot about science and peer-reviewed science and Science and also peer-reviewed science before pivoting to how some things are beyond politics and only peer-reviewed politics should be trusted. At least I think that’s what he said. To be honest, my eyes were glazing over by that point. Oh, Mindy also becomes a shill for the evil billionaire. For science.
At a similar point in “Armageddon,” Harry Stamper, portrayed by Bruce Willis, and his entire crew, including Ben Affleck playing A.J. Frost, had negotiated a deal, albeit one with the government, for learning to fly into space. They’d also learned how to fly into space, flown into space, and started their actual mission, one which dealt with an actual asteroid, one which likely had some valuable elements in it. Why the oilmen didn’t switch to mining the asteroid for computer parts is a question to which we will never get the answer.
Stamper, A.J., and company could have, instead, moped around and bought a sustainable, farm-raised, organic dinner to nourish them for the coming apocalypse, as Mindy, Dibiasky, and their families did. Like, they could have done that really easily. They were in a movie named “Armageddon.” Yet they chose not to.
Instead, these fictional heroes, from way back just over a decade ago when we were still allowed to have fictional heroes, forged ahead, despite Stamper’s ship and crew only almost landing in the right place, just around 26 miles away from where they were intending to land. Frost and his crew’s ship, on the other hand, crashed elsewhere even farther away on the asteroid.
As a result, Frost almost died, but didn’t, unlike several other members of his crew. This meant that he and the other survivors only needed to navigate their super sweet moon buggy to the drilling site where the other crew, which had suffered far fewer fatalities, was working.
Of course, they did this with lots of help from science, though it’s unclear whether it was peer-reviewed. More importantly, they did so thanks to the American spirit that leads to things like movies and trips into space and movies about trips into space. Although I suppose movies like “Don’t Look Up” mean we can at least still make movies about getting killed while sitting on Earth while the “heroes” gather around the dinner table to await imminent death, which is a climax of sorts, I suppose.
At “Armageddon’s” climax, we see A.J., who lost a game of shortest straw, prepare to meet his doom by manually detonating the nuke to blow up the asteroid to save the planet. But even though Stamper had some justifiable anger at A.J. for cavorting with his daughter Grace, played by Liv Tyler, Bruce knew she loved A.J.
As such, he ripped out the tubes for A.J.’s oxygen supply, forcing him to return to the ship, where he and the others began their return to Earth while Stamper stayed behind to detonate the nuke, which he successfully did, thus saving the planet.
In other words, they actually saved the planet rather than just whining about it and pestering the government, unlike the protagonists of “Don’t Look Up,” a film that doesn’t exactly get everything wrong, although it does get its central thesis horribly wrong.
But it got one big thing right: By destroying the entire cast and the planet on which they existed, it makes a sequel impossible. For that, we have to thank its writers and producers. We are talking about a movie that Neil deGrasse Tyson, a man who hated the glory that is “Armageddon,” loved.