Genre: Action, Drama, and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.
Release Date: December 18th, 2020 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ric Roman Waugh Actors: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, Scott Poythress, Claire Bronson, Gary Weeks, Hope Davis, David Denman, Holt McCallany
gainst his better judgment, structural engineer (or building constructor) John Allan Garrity (Gerard Butler) leaves his site after working well beyond his scheduled time. It’s still early afternoon in Atlanta, however, allowing him to visit his previously estranged wife Allison Rose (Morena Baccarin), with whom he’s attempting to rekindle a relationship – hopefully for more than just a shot at reconnecting with his young son Nathan Beckett (Roger Dale Floyd). Not only on the radio during the drive home, but also with Nathan’s school assignment, the subject of an interstellar comet, named Clarke, continues to surface. It is, in fact, so talked about in the news and as a significant current event that it’s impossible to ignore.
Clarke, presumed to have originated from a different solar system and having seemingly come out of nowhere, will give the Earth the closest flyby recorded in the last century. And as the situation develops, it’s soon reported that multiple fragments (the first the size of a football field) are expected to enter the atmosphere – but they should burn up in the sky before ever getting anywhere near the ground. And so, as all audiences will suspect, the threat of total annihilation is imminent.
When a Presidential Alert from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – sent straight to John’s phone – insists that the Garritys report to a base in Georgia, the panic really sets in. Fascinatingly, the selection process for transportation to a classified military shelter isn’t immediately apparent – much to the chagrin of neighbors who don’t receive the same governmental messages as the Garritys. With little delay, families beg for help from those on their way to an Air Force base; the authorities and the White House fail to release adequate information to the masses; and looting and criminal destruction begins. “That didn’t take long,” John comments about rioters.
Although the basic premise is moderately believable, and the ensuing chaos is completely realistic, there are a couple of glaring issues that promptly designate this story as a mere product for the big screen. Firstly, Nathan has specific health issues with specific medication requirements, which provide ideal theatrical predicaments (at all the worst possible moments), but are terribly contrived. It does, however, create an opportunity for this situation to get addressed, which is actually somewhat engaging and eye-opening. And secondly, thanks to the extreme disorder of relocation, the evacuation comes down to a last-second sort of operation – again, the stuff of movies, but actions that are indiscreetly overdramatic.
To its credit, “Greenland” does handle the large-scale pandemonium skillfully. Portraying anarchical confusion and distress – like something out of a zombie apocalypse thriller – isn’t exactly the most trying task (or one that hasn’t been done before), but the sense and scope of societal breakdown here looks convincing and certainly feels like an accurate response. Common human decency is quick to disintegrate in disaster scenarios, especially when the threat of legal consequences spontaneously vanishes. But what should have been a slightly more thought-provoking, emotional, existential crisis (or perhaps a cautionary tale) instead resorts predominantly to disaster movie tropes – in the vein of Roland Emmerich’s oeuvre. Excitement and frenzy always tend to be most important. “You’d think technology would work in emergencies!”
Of course, having a family to save is also key; having someone to embrace after life-and-death strife makes it all seem manageable. Clearly, a yarn about a lone wolf surviving an extinction-level catastrophe doesn’t pack the same punch. Yet the more intimate interactions are the ones that ring less true; with such an uneven distribution of its attention toward high-octane adventure, the personal relationships tend to suffer or appear phony. Most damagingly, these protagonists aren’t particularly engaging, even if end-of-the-world bedlam is natural movie material. And last-minute twists (a practical ending is likely impossible) only cement the notion that thrills – not characters – are the priority.
– Mike Massie