GREENLAND— 2 STARS
When it comes to disaster movies, believability is often the first or second thing thrown out the window and for good reason. Their goal is most often spectacle and buckle-up entertainment. What would be truthful reality is either unfathomable or the kind of messy details that would get in the way of showmanship that puts butts in seats.
Things don’t freeze as fast in real life as they would in The Day After Tomorrow, but it looks cool. Independence Day cherry picks convenient landmarks to blow up first because they look cooler getting destroyed than a blank geographic spot in the country. San Andreas and 2012 alter scientific laws of plate tectonics every which way, but the big screen effects need to wow us. Just about every second of Armageddon is a mularky of logic and science, but, damn, do we love our matinee heroes overcoming calamities in the nick of time. On and on, we love them all precisely because they’re ludicrous.
LESSON #1: REALISM AND HUMANISM ARE APPRECIATED— That said, it is wholly encouraging when a disaster movie does attempt to offer a more ponderous side to its story arc of catastrophe. Either they don’t cut corners with reality or they invest in the people side. Take the terrifying attack segment of The Day After that shows no quarter or how the boat was rendered secondary to a love story in Titanic. The best disaster movies do both or at least nail one of those angles really well. Try as it may, Greenland is not that movie.
LESSON #2: THEY PROBABLY WOULDN’T TELL US— The impending disaster Greenland presents is a comet barrelling on a collision course with our planet. Upon its discovery, the media was fed a story that it’s just passing by when in reality it’s a multiple-fragment monster and coming right for us with extinction-level power. Only when off-screen countermeasures are exhausted does the narrative change to preparations and evacuations. Much like Deep Impact, 2012, and the like that have gone this secretive coverup route before, it’s likely very true we wouldn’t have any hint of this in public to calm nerves and avoid inevitable mass hysteria. Grant a hat tip to Greenland.
Soon, the first chunks of the comet strike the surface on a rotating globe with destructive results, seen more on observed televisions than on film, and a world of citizens watching are horrified. Our main protagonist for all this is building engineer John Garrity, played by consummate cinema survivalist Gerard Butler reuniting with his Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh. As the cosmic shit is hitting the fan with the biggest hunk 48 hours away, John is given government alert instructions to evacuate him and his family, including his semi-estranged wife Allison (Homeland’s Morena Baccarin, outkicking Butler’s coverage by ten years) and diabetic son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd of Doctor Sleep). The planned destination are bunkers on the titular frosty island mass thousands of miles away.
What transpires in Greenland stays on the frantic trek of John and his family. As they try to navigate their instructions, they are stigmatized for being lucky selections, separated, and blocked from their northerly safe haven. Written in a more minimalist way by contemplative screenwriter Chris Sparling (Buried, The Sea of Trees), the family dynamic is the emphasis. Time is the ultimate villain, rivaled quickly by the deranged people and failed situations the Garrity family intersects. This all counts as a citable difference than the disaster movie norm, leading to another hat tip.
LESSON #3: DISASTERS GONNA DISASTER— The trouble is Greenland still cannot resist overselling the unbelievable side of this whole ordeal. The former stunt coordinator director Waugh still needs silly thrills and spills. Rapid societal collapse would be far worse than a smattering of looted stores and some increased traffic here and there. For this movie to go that route, it had to commit more. While shooting for a more grounded perspective, the pitfalls and hurdles placed before Gerard Butler and company try to be harrowing, but they’re still too easy and light on risk. We still have an action hero getting lucky like an action hero too often does. When that happens, the repetitive disbelief smears the good graces of more tense intentions. The eye rolls take over.