“It’s the journey, not the destination” is a popular lie that’s printed on inspirational posters in guidance counselors’ offices all across America. The reassuring phrase is particularly egregious, however, when applied to movies, in which a bad ending can make the preceding two hours feel like a humongous waste of your time.
So it goes with “The Midnight Sky,” a good-up-to-a-point science-fiction film directed by and starring George Clooney. At the film’s most entertaining heights, it recalls the novels of Ray Bradbury and the Matt Damon flick “The Martian.” But its final twist is an extremely implausible, easy way out.
You want your money back, but it’s on Netflix.
Running time: 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 (some bloody images and brief strong language). On Netflix.
Much has been said about Clooney’s 28-pound weight loss for the part, and deservedly so. The stud looks nothing like his old heartbreaker self, more closely resembling David Letterman after he retired from “The Late Show” and grew that crazy fisherman beard.
Clooney’s grizzly character is a scientist named Augustine who chooses to remain on Earth even as it faces an environmental apocalypse. He’s dying of cancer and would rather finish out his last days working out of his Arctic base.
Settling into his bachelor routine — Clooney clearly prepared for this role for decades — Augustine discovers a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) hiding in a laboratory, she’s been accidentally left behind when her family fled the planet. He needs to contact the spaceship her parents are on to come get her, so the pair dangerously embarks across the Arctic Circle to reach a powerful satellite communication base.
That plot is standard fare in the grand scheme of sci-fi, but it is undeniably well-directed by Clooney. He has a keen grasp on isolation and vastness, and the quietest moments are like black holes. Clooney builds suspense, too. Even though Augustine is (almost) the only person left, you always feel someone else might be lurking around the corner — both thanks to his performance and direction.
There are two other interwoven plots that come to be frustratingly important to the rotten resolution. Felicity Jones plays an astronaut named Sully who is returning to Earth with her crew, including David Oyelowo, after discovering another planet that can support human life. They should have stayed there! And some scenes are flashbacks involving Augustine and a fling named Jean (Sophie Rundle).
All of them are engrossing till the lame ending scene. Clooney’s film blasts off, but doesn’t land.