Released 2020. Director: Ric Roman Waugh
THE WORLD HAS ENDED SO MANY TIMES IN THE MOVIES that another staging of the great extinction hardly causes a ripple of excitement anymore. Greenland depicts another end-of-the-world scenario, hewing closely to a familiar template and inserting a few small changes here and there. Once the movie starts, you can be certain where it goes and how it ends.
In other words, there’s not much in terms of surprises. Chief of all, the central character, our man-of-the-hour, will defy all odds to rise to the challenge. This time, he’s played by Gerard Butler, who has in the recent past stamped out his own little niche playing heroes and saviours that rely not only on muscles but virtues and principles. He also looks the same in every movie, which is like a less starry version of Russell Crowe.
Butler’s character is named John Garrity, an engineer whose family has been selected by the government to evacuate to safety at some secret location but they need to move right now. A comet is hurtling towards Earth in a collision course, huge chunks of the space invader are streaking across the sky, and the final impact is due in a matter of hours.
One of the pleasures of watching a disaster movie like this is the often spectacular visual effects of massive destruction. In this regard Greenland is disappointing. Director Ric Roman Waugh does not seem interested in indulging audiences with money shots that roar and sweep everything in sight. (Perhaps it was a budgetary issue.) You get a scene of fireballs raining on traffic, a couple of quick impact shots and a few blinking glances of cities like Sydney and Paris in ruin but nothing like the colossal obliteration featuring crumbling skyscrapers, buckling highways, towering tsunami or fracturing landscape in movies like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.
For a disaster movie Greenland is heavily geared towards the central characters and their plight for survival, much less on the spectacle of an unfolding cosmic catastrophe. Our attention is on the fate of the Garrity family. Their road to salvation is met with one roadblock after another, and Waugh milks every ounce of drama and anguish out of them.
Sometimes the turn of events feels banal, almost obligatory and without originality. Sometimes you’re amazed at the unbelievable stroke of luck that keeps them alive. At other times you must stop questioning the mysterious workings of the script, not out loud in any case.
The family gets separated just before boarding the military evacuation flights. John gets bumped off the plane before it blows up. Wife Allison and son Nathan escape gun violence at a store looting and hitch a ride with a couple that leads to a screaming traumatic kidnapping. Allison is picked up by some kind people and reunites with her son because the personnel at the shelter site are unbelievably calm and organised in the face of frantic mobs terrified of being left behind to die. John gets in a fight and kills a man in self-defense. Nathan could go into shock anytime because he doesn’t have his insulin shots. Meanwhile the clock is ticking and comet bits threaten to smash cars and punch fiery holes in the ground around them.
Gerard Butler knows exactly what to do with his material. He’s a failed husband trying to redeem himself and a man born to be a superhero to his young son. Butler’s pained expressions and his brown-bear physique tick the boxes. He’s more believable than Dwayne Johnson’s almost cartoonlike treatment in a very similar situation in San Andreas (2015). But I would dearly like to see a regular skinny dude cast in the role next time instead of an action figure preordained to fulfil the requirement.
It also comes as no surprise that the Garrity family will make it to the bunker just in time before the big kahuna makes deep impact. How is it that the good Samaritan pilots in Canada know where in Greenland to land is never explained. How is it that random unofficial planeloads of people are readily admitted to the highly classified and selective last-of-the-human-race survivors list is also a dubious contrivance. I know what you’re saying. I’m asking too many questions.
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