‘The Midnight Sky’ is Beyond Disappointing (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: C-

I’ve never quite had an experience with a movie like I did with The Midnight Sky. For a good majority of the film, I quite enjoyed myself. In fact, for roughly 115 of its 120 minutes, I was settled into a B- review, ready to call it a fun, if wildly derivative and forgettable, melding of hard sci-fi tropes with post-apocalyptic nightmares. It was a review I was comfortable with, and ready to defend. And then it ended.

It seems likely that one day The Midnight Sky, which is directed by and starring George Clooney, will become something of an academic case study in the importance of sticking the narrative landing. Any good will I had built towards the film during those first 115 minutes completely evaporated in the last 5 with a conclusion so baffling and idiotic that it completely breaks the narrative logic of the film, rendering it a pointless and futile exercise of bad will and worse storytelling.

Which is I guess partly my fault. To be entirely honest, the ending itself is predictable; so much so that early inclinations regarding the supposed twist were dismissed as being so obvious that there was no way the story would go in that direction. Surely something bigger, better, and more meaningful would be done with the film’s simple premise. In hindsight, that’s my fault. Clooney, for all his star power and charisma, isn’t exactly known for his skills in the director’s chair. Though, to be fair to him, the problems lay much deeper than his skills, such as they are.

Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by author Lily Brooks-Dalton, The Midnight Sky follows a lone scientist (Clooney) stuck at a research facility in the arctic after an unnamed radioactive disaster has rendered humanity all but extinct. As the last act of humanity, he hopes to contact the deep space exploration ship, Aether, which is returning from a successful pre-colonization study of a newly discovered habitable moon of Jupiter, in order to convince them to turn back and find what safety they can. In the process, he discovers that the young daughter (Caoilinn Springall) of a former colleague has been accidentally left behind at the research facility, forcing him to confront his paternal instincts for the first time since abandoning his own daughter years ago. To make matters worse, he’s dying from cancer and has only a limited window of time to contact Aether and save their lives as well as any future humanity might have.

On paper, this is the kind of story that tends to speak to me specifically. A big fan of both apocalyptic and space exploration fiction, it was exciting to see the juxtaposition of these two genres and how well they work together. The film bounces back and forth between Clooney’s isolation in the arctic and Aether’s isolation in space, and some interesting parallels are drawn that explore the emotional undercurrent of humanity.

And yes, this is all derivative. Most modern hard sci-fi about space exploration owes a great debt to 2001, just as arctic survival stories owe a debt to The Call of the Wild. And even the basic premise of the earthly apocalypse, which largely goes unexplained except for an ever growing, deadly cloud of radiation circling the globe via the wind patterns, owes a debt to Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, On the Beach. Somehow, this story manages to blend all of these into a coherent and engaging work.

Until the ending. I have a personal philosophy to limit what I discuss about a movie in order to avoid spoilers; they’re unfair to readers, even if I don’t personally mind them myself. What’s frustrating here is that this philosophy limits my ability to critique the film and adequately explain how it damned itself after praising it as I do above. Suffice it to say, there’s a twist. It’ll probably be the same twist you see coming. You’ll probably want to dismiss that idea as being stupid and moot, as it would render much of what we’ve seen prior to it illogical. Except that is exactly what The Midnight Sky does.

Which is a shame. As derivative as the film is up to that point, it does manage to be highly engaging and an interesting study on what survival means on both the individual and species wide level. Clooney, though exactly a fantastic director, is still a great performer, and his performance here is in line with that. So too with the crew of Aether. Led by David Owelowo as Captain Adewole and Felicity Jones as Mission Specialist Sullivan, they lend a stark urgency to the impending disaster that is humanity, and their parallel story lines work well together.

But none of that means anything if the ending is dumb, and this ending is dumb. So much so that I cannot recommend wasting any time with The Midnight Sky, even to appreciate what might otherwise be enjoyable about it. There’s wisdom in the old entertainment industry ideal of “wow them in the end” because the end tends to be what audiences take away the most. And unfortunately, with that philosophy as our guide, there’s nothing worth taking away from The Midnight Sky that makes this a journey worth taking.

The Midnight Sky is now available on Netflix.

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14 Responses

  1. SPOILER ALERT!

    There are multiple outcomes at the end. I am not sure which one the author is disappointed with (they are all disappointing).

    To me, the “mission accomplished” part of the ending, is in fact, also a dud. A “mission not accomplished”. By the time we get to the end, the fate of the Aether is portrayed as a victory, narrowly won against all odds. But “what” is that fate? Even if they succeed in fulfilling the mission (the second one, the one that GC advises them to do). What happens when that is accomplished? They are the last of the human race, supposedly? But the plot gets rid of all but 2 people from the ship. You can’t restart the human race with only 2 people.

  2. Normally a Sci fi movie has some aspect that is based on Science. This lost me when it started talking about a hitherto unknown moon of Jupiter that obviously has close to terrestrial gravity. You can see the moons of Jupiter using the most basic binoculars. How could it be unknowm? Open dishes in the Arctic? You can fall into icy water in those conditions and survive beyons 20 minutes? Most people are not scientifically illiterate these day, but obviously the writer and producer is.

    I couldn’t watch this to the end. It just wan’t very convincing.

  3. I’m gonna have to disagree with almost all of this. The ending kind of saved the movie from its contrived, melodramatic, and cliched scenes which almost drowned it under broken ice.

    Sure, the twist might have been a little predictable, but it’s a good twist, and restores the humanity that was established in the first third of the movie, which was subsequently trashed by freak storms, invincible wolves, and magical ice ball rings.

    As bleak as the movie is, it needed the twist to save itself, and the relationship of the main character with his family held it all together. I’ll take that over the illogical nonsense I saw previously.

  4. 1st things 1st…C-???? Are you Knotts ??, In simple terms this movie is as bad and stupid as it can be , PERIOD ! When a movie is as bad as this one, IS OK TO GIVE IT AN “F”, no need to sugarcoat it with a C- for the love of God…2nd…Dave, Dave, Dave thank you for make me laugh, by trying to “EXPLAIN” why you like it, and the suppose logic your mastermind saw in this movie …In two simple words it was Bad and STUPID, PERIOD.

  5. Someone put George Clooney in a space shuttle or desolate weather outpost.

    I want 2 hours of my life back. I fell asleep twice, figured with the base story, something would make it good eventually. No, it’s just a constant snooze the whole way thru, even worse ending. I never connected with any of the characters. Just goofy and sad.

  6. Thank goodness this movie came out on Netflix in the middle of a pandemic so I was able to avoid having to watch it in a theater as opposed to my phone. Just terrible. And like a moth to a flame I kept watching, thinking, there’s got to be something redeeming to this at some point. But so much rediculous, and then the end???????? Oh jeez. Some of my favorite low lights, in no particular order, and I know I’m missing some. They drifted off course? Spacesuit puncture but still pressurized? Dip in the water, no frozen cold sudden exhalation of air, full freedom of movement while fully clothed and emersed, and let’s just zip him back up once out and good!!!! Everything is dead but the wolves? Oh gosh. I think that’s enough for now.

  7. I actually enjoyed the movie up to the last 10 minute point when fully HALF the crew of the exploration ship which mean HALF the fraking human race, decides to “go home” to certain death, thus depriving the other HALF of the fraking human race, of HALF of the surviving humans, HALF of the remaining gene pool and HALF of their remaining space shuttles. WTF?

    Their selfish stupidity pretty much guarantees the end of our species. And these are supposed to be trained scientists? Idiots. The script writer, the director, the producer, SOMEONE should have called out on this insipid bullshit.

    1. Yeah that part make me shout at the screen … so stupidstupidstupid and then everybody else was like … “I understand” NO NO NO

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