Synopsis: John Garrity, his estranged wife and their young son embark on a perilous journey to find sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I feel like I should give a disclaimer at the top of this review for the new end of the world disaster film Greenland which is being released onto streaming platforms after its summer 2020 release was delayed. Though it had already arrived in theaters over in Europe back in July, it’s just now entering the U.S. atmosphere for all of us to see. My disclaimer is that though I’m going to be dissecting some finer points of Greenland along the way and they are going to come off as maybe a tad harsh, I am definitely landing squarely on the side of recommending this film on the quality of the filmmaking and its overall effectiveness as a motion picture. Whatever you may think of the characters within or the timing of its release, the movie has an almost tangible presence while you’re watching it that makes for an unsettling viewing experience.
Director Ric Roman Waugh reteams with his Angel Has Fallen star Gerard Butler in hopes of reigniting that same good chemistry and recapturing the rich details of their unexpectedly excellent third sequel to London Has Fallen and Olympus Has Fallen. The film starts rather innocuously with spare titles and news of a recently discovered interstellar comet, named Clarke, that is making headlines but isn’t cause for much concern. Butler is an Atlanta-based structural engineer estranged from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin, Deadpool) but returning to help patch things up and host a party for his son (Roger Dale Floyd, Doctor Sleep) to watch the comet enter Earth’s orbit along with friends from their upper class neighborhood.
The fun stops quickly when John receives a message from the Office of Homeland Security notifying him that he, along with his family, have been selected for evacuation to a secret bunker and that they need to make their way to a designated location for transport immediately. The comet’s trajectory has changed course and small fragments have begun to vaporize cities across the country and the world, with a massive sized chunk due to touch down in mere days, killing 75% of the population. Leaving their dazed neighbors behind, the Garrity family heads for the transport base but getting to safety amidst the rising panic of a country not used to being denied access to anything proves to be a journey as perilous as the danger plummeting toward them from the sky.
Perhaps it’s just that as we’re reaching the end of 2020 I’ve had my fill of the selfishness I’ve seen overflowing in American cities, but there’s something about the actions of the central characters in Greenland that started to really annoy me early on. Numerous times during the film John and Allison have a direct impact on preventing thousands of people making their way to safety (i.e. surviving) because of something stupid they’ve thrown a fit about being able to do (get on a plane, get off a plane, etc). There’s even a scene where John says that if he can’t get on a plane, no one will be able to take off. Is that really how we want our heroes in movies to act? It’s likely something that every action hero or heroine has done in similar films throughout movie history but for some reason I couldn’t get over it while the film was rolling, and that frustration sat over me like a dark cloud straight through to the end of the movie. Constant elbowing to the front of lines, moving from the back of crowds to the front touting their importance above the person next to them, numerous demands of attention needing to be paid right then and there while millions of lives hang in the balance echoes a lot of the kind of behavior we’re seeing today. Then again, it could be one other thing.
Maybe…well. How do I say it? Maybe it’s also because there’s so much whiteness in the film as well. There, I’ve said it. That’s what’s really bothering me. On more than one occasion, one of the Garrity family is directly helped by a minority character who either winds up sacrificing their life for a Garrity to survive or becomes collateral damage because of the actions caused by something a Garrity did or didn’t do. It almost becomes a farce after a while because each person they meet you are almost counting down the minutes until they’re either dispatched or disappear without so much as a goodbye wave. Complaining to a black female military official that she and her son aren’t able to board a plane to safety for those selected to go to the survival bunker, the official (Merrin Dungey, who faced another comet in 1998’s Deep Impact) tells Allison that her family wasn’t even allowed to go to the bunker and Allison takes it in for a moment, shrugs it off, and then asks for help finding her husband so they can get on the plane together. It’s a constant feeling of “me first above all else” that starts to grate on you.
So, it almost feels wrong to whip my head around and tell you that Greenland is still quite an entertaining film…but it is. Yes, it has some serious issues in the moral character department (strangely and in a scary way, it’s not as far-fetched as it may sound) but it finds a way to by-pass those problematic stumbling blocks with grounding the actors and situations with as much realism as possible. Other disaster films are all about the massive visual effects and destruction scenes and while those are present here, Waugh is more adept at creating dread than causing mayhem. The movie is infinitely more effective when it is leaving us to think about our current situation and what we’d do if faced with days left with nowhere to run. It is frightening, I admit.
Arguably an experience that would be more impressive on the big screen, watching Greenland at home isn’t a total loss because at least when the tension gets too high you can (as I did) jump up and pace at your leisure without worrying about bothering your neighbors. Fans of Butler will be pleased with his continued run of middle-aged do-gooders trying to do-good (even if John Garrity is, as mentioned already, kind of a Karen) and Baccarin is a fine match for him in the action scenes as well as the dramatic ones that make up the front end of the movie. Watch with confidence of a film that delivers on its promise of entertainment value for the full two hours but do take note of what I’m talking about and see if you know what I mean about the whole “me first” attitude…