Movies love to menace Earth. It’s human nature. In some of the most plausible doomsday flicks — “Meteor,” “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” — a big space rock threatens annihilation. Usually, if not always happily, someone finally comes to the rescue, though that isn’t the case in the 1951 film “When Worlds Collide.” Before it makes good on its title, this shocker rockets survivalists on an ark to colonize another planet, which is more or less what Elon Musk has talked about with Space X.
The director Adam McKay is not in the mood for nihilistic flights of fancy. Our planet is too dear and its future too terrifying, as the accelerated pace of species extinction and global deforestation underscore. But humanity isn’t interested in saving Earth, never mind itself, as the recent Glasgow climate summit reminded us. We’re too numb, dumb, powerless and indifferent, too busy fighting trivial battles. So McKay has made “Don’t Look Up,” a very angry, deeply anguished comedy freak out about how we are blowing it, hurtling toward oblivion. He’s sweetened the bummer setup with plenty of yuks — good, bad, indifferent — but if you weep, it may not be from laughing.
Maybe bring hankies, though don’t look for speeches about climate change and global warming. Rather than directly confronting the existential horror of our environmental catastrophe, McKay has taken an allegorical approach in “Don’t Look Up” with a world-destroying comet. Oh sure, on its website, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (yes, it’s real) isn’t worried about near-Earth objects, as they’re called: “No known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years.” Whew. But no matter. The planet is on fire, and so is McKay, who’s embraced his inner Roland Emmerich (“2012”) with a fury by lobbing a great big joke at us.
That joke is definitely on us or soon will be in “Don’t Look Up,” which follows a studiously curated ragtag collection of scientists, politicians, military types, journalists and miscellaneous others who face — or don’t — the threat of a rapidly approaching comet. “I heard there’s an asteroid or a comet or something that you don’t like the looks of,” a visibly bored president of the United States (Meryl Streep) says to some anxious scientists who have been granted an imperial audience. The scientists really don’t like what they’ve seen but the president has other things on her mind, including upcoming elections and the friendly perv she’s trying to get placed on the Supreme Court.