The Midnight Sky (2020) — A hollow hike through the snow

“You know, there’s no rule that says you have to touch everything.”

Justin’s rating: Touchy touchy touchy

Justin’s review: You know how there’s that dismaying moment when you first look at your parents and realize that they’ve grown old? I feel the same way about actors that we’ve known for decades. One day you wake up, put on their latest movie, and see a senior citizen looking back at you. It happens. It’s the least surprising thing ever. But it’s still disconcerting.

That’s how I felt when I saw George Clooney appear in The Midnight Sky, far more elderly and scraggly and worn than I’ve ever seen him. But he’s still the kind of warm personality that you’d like to be around you if the world ever ended. And hey! It just ended! Some sort of frustratingly unspecified “event” has roasted most of the Earth’s surface, and it’s only one places such as in the arctic that haven’t been affected — yet. It’s here that Augustine (Clooney) resides alone in an observatory that everyone else has fled, keeping a vigil for inbound spaceships so that he can warn them away. With both the radiation (?) approaching and his health declining, he’s only got a small amount of time to get to a bigger antennae and send a message to a ship coming back from a moon of Jupiter.

Except that it isn’t. With this premise, I was fully expecting The Midnight Sky to be a dour hard scifi excursion. Instead, it’s got a wonky tone that’s hard to pin down. With the near-future tech being far more advanced than we’re going to get in the next 30 years, a habitable (!) planet in our own solar system to colonize, and an often chipper score, it’s one of the most upbeat post-apocalyptic tales I’ve seen. And that doesn’t… quite… fit this setting.

On top of all of this tonal oddity is the bizarre discovery of a little mute girl who was left behind from the observatory evacuation. Augustine reluctantly brings her under his wing, mostly using her as an audience substitute so that he can fling exposition her way. Between the chummy Star Trek-esque crew of the spaceship and this protector-protectee trek filled with bits of humor, it’s hard to take any of this that seriously.

I mean, out of nowhere this movie says that there’s this Earth-like moon orbiting Jupiter that we’ve never seen before, has all sorts of plant life, and is perfect for colonization. And because it’s a major plot point, you can’t just hand-wave the implausibility of this away. And would no one from Earth or any space stations or other ships think to drop a line to that spaceship before comms went dark? This radically altered world is never explained or dealt with in a way that feels sensible.

I don’t know what The Midnight Sky was trying to be, but whatever that may have been, it failed at it. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it feels slap-dash, empty, and adrift in a way that’s mildly maddening. I don’t like coming away from movies resentful of them. This one, however, earned my ire.

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