Greenland | Review

by Andrew Parker

Better than most other large scale disaster films out there, Greenland shifts its focus away from an abundance of speaker rumbling explosions and near misses (although there are plenty of those still to be found) and towards the feelings and reactions of the human beings experiencing them. There’s plenty of genre fun to be found in Greenland – along with all of the nagging scientific questions that remain in such movies – but its sense of humanity actually bothers to put an empathetic face on world annihilating devastation. Greenland wants to give the audience an end-of-the-world spectacle, but in an all too rare move, it also wants the viewer to care and think (just not too hard, or else the whole thing will fall apart).

A comet named Clarke is streaking through the skies. Although it’s visible from Earth, forecasters say it’s not in any danger of hitting the planet because it will likely break up upon entering the atmosphere. Those forecasters turn out to be very wrong once chunks of Clarke start breaking off and taking out entire states and countries. The revised forecasts show that one fragment – due to hit somewhere over Europe in the next 48 hours – is a planet killer, leaving the entire human race scrambling for shelter and basic needs.

One of the people who seems to have this whole “end of the world thing” relatively easy is John Garrity (Gerard Butler), an Atlanta area structural engineer, who was important enough to be entered into a special lottery for the world’s best and brightest. John, his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), are told to immediately proceed to an airfield so they can be whisked away to a bunker in Greenland. Their plans are undone when John is separated from Nathan and Allison in a panic, and the wife and son are turned away from getting on a plane because the young boy is diabetic, and no one with pre-existing illnesses will be allowed into the shelter. The family tries to reunite across a crazy, dangerous night and find a way to get back on any other remaining flights that are heading to Greenland.

Maybe it’s the current state of the world, but something about Greenland and its more grounded sense of tension hits differently than it might have a year ago. Things unravel and escalate quickly once it’s known that the comet fragments are going to be a big threat. Panic immediately grips everyone, rational thinking goes out the window, and desperation takes hold in record time, as evidenced by an exceptional scene early on when John gets a text message that his family has been earmarked for safety, while a bunch of other families that have gathered to celebrate Nathan’s birthday get nothing. It’s well paced and appropriately anguished, which helps to distract from the fact that only a couple of minutes prior to that, audiences were greeted with a dodgy looking CGI shockwave. The special effects in Greenland are adequate at the best of times, but the film always excels thanks to its emotional intelligence.

Greenland is the latest film from legendary stunt coordinator turned director Ric Roman Waugh, who previously helmed the underrated Dwayne Johnson starring trucker drama Snitch and the forgettable sequel Angel Has Fallen. In the handful of films Waugh has made – not all of great quality – the director has always placed an emphasis on drama and personal relationships over action. The script from Chris Sparling (Buried, The Sea of Trees) speaks well to Waugh’s sensibilities as a director. Waugh also seems to be the type of director that understands his limitations. Sometimes, instead of showing a “deep impact,” Waugh will keep focused on the characters and simply blow out some windows or move the set around a bit. It’s not a corny tactic like in many B-grade action pictures, mostly because the focus remains on actors who want the themes in the script to shine brighter than the fiery orange skies around them.

Butler gives one of his best performances, hearkening back to some of the actor’s best dramatic work in the likes of Dear Frankie and Chasing Mavericks. John Garrity isn’t the type of alpha male hero that Butler normally gets tapped to play, but rather an intelligent man who relies on brains rather than brawn. It’s truly great to see Butler get a role that fully showcases his talents as an actor. Similarly great is Baccarin, who does the lion’s share of traditional derring-do, as a woman trying to protect the well being of her son. Scott Glenn also shows up as Allison’s good ‘ol boy father, a man who’s had a longstanding grudge with John. This thread is a bit more cliched than some of the other wrinkles throughout Greenland, but the actors and Waugh handle this aside with delicacy and drama.

There are genuine moments of terror and danger throughout Greenland that might make viewers feel a lump in their throat, and almost all of them have more to do with the breakdown of society and the fight for survival than the flaming rocks that are showering down. (Although the film’s best pure action sequence expressly involves flaming rocks coming down.) That doesn’t excuse a lot of logical questions that dog disaster films. Nothing here is as bad as wondering how Dennis Quaid can walk the entire east coast in a day a la The Day After Tomorrow, but if one stops to think about Greenland for a moment while watching it, they’ll be amazed anyone is alive after the thirty minute mark at all. If John was that close to Florida – which is annihilated first – how is anyone in Atlanta still surviving with relative ease? How increasingly polluted is the atmosphere getting, and how is everyone able to walk around like things aren’t on fire all around them? If these fragments are peppering the earth, how and why was Greenland settled upon to be this magical bastion of hope for the human race?

I suppose these questions keep coming up because few would really want to see a bleak, truthful, or ambiguous film about the end of the world. Iit would likely be too depressing for most audiences. We want these characters to survive so badly that viewers are willing to offer up some suspension of disbelief in hopes that it will help these people. (Something I wondered about while watching Greenland, which seems like it might’ve undergone reshoots for its ending.) Greenland deserves a good deal of respect for deftly toeing the line between escapist entertainment and realistic drama. The action is fine, but the drama in Greenland leaves much more of an impression.

Greenland is available to stream in Canada on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, February 5, 2021.

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