Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writer: Chris Sparling
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd
End-of-the-world/apocalyptic/disaster movies have always been a stalwart of the movie world, even more so since computer graphics were introduced into filmmaking, and right now, with the current situation in the world, they feel that much more prevalent and relevant. It’s also no surprise really to see Gerard Butler helm yet another action/disaster film (he’s pretty much king of them at this point, though I feel the title of one of his previous disaster movies, Geostorm, would have been more appropriate for this movie than simply Greenland – whoever gave it that title needs to be fired). Put ol’ Gerry-B back together with his Angel Has Fallen director, throw in the writer of claustrophobic thriller Buried (you know, that one with Ryan Reynolds in a box), then I suppose you can chuck in a producer from the John Wick series (Basil Iwanyk), and you may have something fairly interesting on your hands. Is Greenland an edge-of-your-seat, end-of-the-world, entertaining type of blockbuster, or will you just be left high and dry as the world falls apart all around you?
John Garrity (Butler), a structural engineer, and his estranged wife Allison (Baccarin) live together with their seven-year-old son Nathan (Floyd). They host a gathering for their neighbours on the day when a comet, nicknamed ‘Clarke’, is due to fly past Earth. On the day of the comet’s passing, John receives a Presidential Alert on his phone to say he and his family have been pre-selected for emergency shelter. Confused, John returns home and, together with his family and neighbours, witnesses on television a fragment of the comet landing on Earth and destroying a major city. Now understanding the imminent danger the comet actually poses to the planet and humanity, John packs up his family and follows the instructions to get to the shelter. The journey there, however, is not straightforward, and John, Allison and Nathan have to do everything they can to stay together and stay alive.
As end-of-the-world/apocalyptic/disaster movies go, this one actually isn’t terrible. Personally, I’m a fan of big budget world-coming-to-an-end movies, but not so much post-apocalyptic type (call me a masochist, but I enjoy the terror that comes with seeing the world burn; I’m just not so much a fan of the mess that comes after). Movies like The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds and Deep Impact float my Noah’s ark, stories that, technically, could possibly occur in reality (something I believe to be far more terrifying than any supernatural horror or monster movie). On a scale of Dr. Strangelove (good) to Knowing (bad), Greenland falls somewhere in between on the disaster/end-of-the-world movie scale. What it manages to do that sets it apart from the bad is balance the impending disaster with genuine feeling and emotion as we grow attached to the Garrity family. The focus isn’t consistently on the comet and the falling “fragments” that are levelling cities; instead, it looms like a foreboding shadow over the protagonists, meaning it’s easy to briefly forget about the larger threat and focus on the dangers closer to home, the dangers that befall the Garrity’s in their fight for survival. It’s a blend of Sparling’s writing, David Buckley’s score and the performances – which aren’t over the top in the slightest, which is unusual for a movie of this scale – that causes us to feel some real empathy for the characters (particularly Allison and Nathan). But what keeps it from the ‘good’ end of the scale?
If there’s anything negative to say about Greenland, it’s probably that it’s, well, rather basic and predictable. You can hardly blame it, it’s not an original story at all, but Waugh does his best to keep Sparling’s story from dragging its feet by keeping the pace up visually and keeping the dialogue relevant. There are a few moments here and there that crop up to make you think something important is going to happen in relation to said moments, but then it either doesn’t go very far or go anywhere at all. It’s probably for the best, because Waugh would not want to lose the momentum of the story or the action, however, in that respect, those moments could have been lifted out without any damage done to the plot. We’d then end up with a shorter movie though, so perhaps it just goes to show that the original screenplay was probably lacking and needed padding out here and there, and unfortunately the padding shows.
As previously mentioned, Butler trying to save the world (or at least a few important people) is nothing new, but what Greenland does better is reduce his role to that of what you could say is an ordinary, everyday ‘hero’. There’s really nothing special about his character: he’s not got a military background, he doesn’t work for a government organisation, and frankly Butler’s not at his fittest physically (the man is getting older, to be fair). You might even say John is a relatable character: flawed, but optimistic about doing the right thing by his family in the end. Butler suits this kind of role, especially as his days of leading a Spartan army or saving political figures as a military action man are starting to pass. His chemistry with Baccarin as his wife is believable enough for the minimal scenes they share, but she really shines when she’s either solo or in scenes with Floyd as their son Nathan. Floyd puts in a great performance for such a young age, enough to give you the feels in particular scenes (again, especially with Baccarin). They’re a minimal main cast but a strong one, and it works in favour of preventing the movie from becoming bloated with multiple storylines or characters to care for, particularly if you think of Clarke the comet as a villain of sorts. Which reminds me of one last gripe: why the heck would anyone name a comet after Arthur C. Clarke, a comet they believe will miss the planet entirely, when A.C. Clarke’s The Hammer of God is all about an asteroid that’s on a collision course with Earth!? That’s just tempting fate/poor research.
Despite its meagre title, Greenland packs more of a punch than might be expected. It’s not loaded with the ton of jargon that usually makes up the script of a disaster movie (because they’re often from the perspective of someone from or in the orbit of the military and therefore packed with military/governmental terminology), and its sole focus isn’t on the imminent destruction of humanity, making it easier to follow and certainly much easier to get on board with the plot, the characters and their journey. It’s not cerebral in any shape or form, it’s not making any commentary on society or the way we live our lives (when really there was probably room to do so), but it’s entertaining enough. If you’re looking for an easy (and maybe a bit of a tense) watch, this one will surely do. Just try to make sure it’s not the last movie you ever watch.