Gerard Butler … John Garrity
Written by Chris Sparling
Greenland follows the long tradition of disaster films such as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 — basically any movie directed by Roland Emmerich — in that it tells a tale of a broken family who rekindle their love amidst a devastating apocalypse. People die by the billions in this movie, but who cares so long as the main cast survives until the end? In this case, John Garrity (Gerard Butler) and Allison (Morena Baccarin) are newly separated parents struggling to adapt to their new lifestyle. “How long is this going to be awkward,” John asks his ex-wife early in the film. “As long as there’s not a world-ending event just around the corner,” she replies.
Not really. But you get the gist.
As it turns out, there is a world-ending scenario headed their way in the form of a deadly comet dubbed Clarke, which has broken off into smaller pieces during its flyby over Earth that now rain down on the planet like a Biblical plague. As such, NASA employs some oil drillers to plant a nuclear device into the oncoming asteroid — nope, sorry. Wrong film. The comet hits and starts a deadly frost that chases our heroes around a building — dammit. That’s The Day After Tomorrow. Oh, yeah, the oncoming comet smashes into the ocean and creates a wave that topples New York in spectacular fashion. Close enough.
No, we never get the big money shot of the Statue of Liberty exploding into flames, but that’s probably because Greenland only cost roughly $35 million to make. And while there are indeed intense moments featuring stuff blowing up real good, director Ric Roman Waugh keeps the action focused on John and his wife and child; and their endeavors to fight off a world thrown into chaos.
Naturally, the harder this family unit tries to stay together, the more separated they become. Early on, we learn that their young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) has diabetes and figure it’s only a matter of time before that particular plot point comes along and bites them in the ass. Sure enough, the kid loses his insulin which inexplicably sets off a chain of unfortunate — though actually fortuitous, considering everything that happens — events and leaves John separated from his wife and child.
Will they reunite in time to reach Greenland, the location where a bunch of underground bunkers await to keep a select few individuals alive amidst the oncoming global killer? If you’ve seen any disaster movie then the answer will be easy to guess, though writer Chris Sparling does manage to throw a few curveballs our way to keep the suspense and emotions running at full throttle.
In a chilling early scene, John gets an emergency broadcast phone call that orders him to pack up his family for evacuation. See, the government understands the devastation that lies ahead and have organized a Deep Impact-ish lottery to ensure the survival of the human race. John and his family are selected. His neighbors aren’t. And there’s an awkward moment where the message appears on John’s TV in front of said neighbors leading to an emotional scene where John has to turn down a neighbor’s requests to take her young daughter.
“What are we supposed to do,” John reasons, “bring her with us and then leave her alone on the tarmac by herself?”
Well, one might reply, we could at least try. Or, hell, bring the mom too so the daughter won’t be alone because later we learn there are indeed other ways to arrive at the safe haven provided you happen to bump into someone with a plane. Oopsies.
The best thing Greenland has going for it is the cast. Butler, Baccarin, and Floyd make a believable family unit while a supporting cast consisting of Scott Glenn, David Denman, and Holt McCallany, among others, make the most of their brief screen time. There’s a great scene in which Allison begs an Air Force Major (played by Merrin Dungey) for help and cries out, “What would you do if it were your family?” to which the Major replies, “My family wasn’t chosen [to survive]. Neither was I.” In fact, only a small handful of military personnel are selected for survival, but the film shows the soldiers dutifully helping others regardless of their personal plight.
That’s another cool thing about the film. Despite the numerous scenes dedicated to violent, desperate people, Greenland also sneaks in quiet moments of hope and compassion. John saves a man from a burning car; a weary pilot allows John’s family to board his plane and a soldier helps Allison find her son. Like Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact, Greenland isn’t so much focused on the tragedy but rather the hope that grows from it. The film follows the same customary routes as most disaster pics and doesn’t earn any points in terms of novelty, but there are enough quietly compelling moments and plenty of fine performances to justify Greenland as passable entertainment.