By no fault of its own, Greenland picked the absolute wrong year to come out. The year 2020 has seen real life become its own disaster movie. To that end, watching the world collapse, as well as society break down, doesn’t necessarily have the same luster on screen at the moment. We’ve had tragedies before and will have them again, so this genre is hardly dead. It just doesn’t seem like a great time for this film to be rolling out. Unfortunately, that colors the flick somewhat, turning a decent enough bit of would-be escapism into something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Honestly? Delaying to next year would have served this one well.
Greenland does what it does reasonably well. While not a blockbuster, budget-wise, the film does give you some decent set-pieces, along with a focus on the personal stakes when the world ends. There’s some heart here, and it’s what makes it harder to overtly dismiss in 2020. Hell, had this come out last year, or maybe next year, it might have landed as an above average installment in the disaster genre.
To be fair, if you don’t see the correlation between our current COVID pandemic and watching a fake disaster on screen, it likely won’t bother you. I honestly didn’t know it would bug me, but it did, just a little bit. That’s where my issue comes into play. So, if that’s not the case for you, tack on a half star and consider this simply a mild recommendation. If you’re more bugged than I am, you’re likely not seeing this one anyway, but if so, deduct a half star. There you go.
We start by meeting structural engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler). John has a thriving business, though his marriage to Allison (Morena Baccarin) is on the rocks, for reasons revealed later. They’re trying to make it work due to their love for young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). While John is doing his best, the world is beginning to worry about a giant comet hurtling towards Earth. The governments of the world have suggested things will be okay, but pieces of the comet are breaking off and causing panic. Plus, while at the store, in advance of a party, John gets a message from the Department of Homeland Security. He and his family have been selected for a secret relocation project. Gathering Allison and Nathan, much to the displeasure of his neighbors, they set off for a nearby military airport. Unfortunately, word has got out and it’s chaos. Moreover, when John leaves them to go back to his car for Nathan’s diabetes medicine, the military informs Allison that a mistake has been made. Being diabetic disqualifies Nathan from the program. As the chaos builds, none of them get on a plane, but are headed in different directions.
Separated from each other, John has to make his way through the fractured society, while Allison and Nathan do the same. They all encounter good folks and bad, with the shared plan of meeting at the home of Allison’s father Dale (Scott Glenn). Of course, things are complicated by news that an Extinction Level Event is about to occur, with a large piece of the comet threatening all life on Earth. So, it’s a race against time, with a long-shot plan for survival.
While the acting won’t win any awards, there’s an engagement here that helps things along. Gerard Butler is his normal bland self, but he’s thankfully, with one exception in a terrible scene, not an action hero. He’s just a husband and father trying to protect/save his family. The everyman quality is essential. Morena Baccarin is more effective, really hammering home the emotions of it all. Here solo sequence is actually somewhat harrowing. Roger Dale Floyd is a decent, if unexceptional, young actor, while supporting players like Hope Davis and Scott Glenn are wasted.
Director Ric Roman Waugh and writer Chris Sparling can’t avoid most of the genre cliches, but they also find some sturdy ground to build upon. Taking away the timing of this subject matter, making Greenland on a mid-level budget leads them to focus on the human element here. Sparling’s script can’t help but make the supporting characters incredibly thin and either saints or sinners, but the focus is rightly on the family, as opposed to the world falling apart. Plus, kudos to the two of them for a brief moment that showcases the heroism of medical professionals.
Again, my issue here may not be yours. Greenland will either entertain you or it won’t. For me, it would be passably entertaining in another time. This year, it simply wasn’t the time. If you like Gerard Butler or this genre, maybe it’ll be easy to put this issue to the side. In that case, give it a shot and see what you think…