A disaster movie starring Gerard Butler? I’ve seen this before. Nothing special here….
I take it all back.
I loved this movie. I never expected to love it as much as I did. I mean, come on. All of these disaster movies are the same and there is little difference about them. At best, they provide a couple of hours of escapist fun and at worst they are big, dumb spectacles that make no sense.
However, Greenland showed that it was more than this. Not only was it big, dumb escapist fun, it was also filled with emotional beats and surprisingly tense situations that felt true to the moment. It was more than our indestructible hero wading through CGI destruction to save his loved ones. While there is some of that, it is not the center of the movie. The movie’s center is actually the flaws of the characters and the nature of the human species.
A comet, dubbed Clarke by the media, approached the earth and the expectations were that it was not going to cause an impact on the planet. However, construction worker John Garrity (Gerard Butler) received a presidential alert on his phone that he and his family had been selected to be taken to a bunker. Though currently estranged from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), John maintained a positive relationship with his son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). When the notification came through, it became apparent that Clarke was going to be more of a problem than what was being reported.
The Garritys packed quickly and headed for the location presented them. After they arrived, they were split and it was determined that, because of his diabetes, Nathan was no longer eligible for the program. The family struggled to reunite and to find a way to safety.
Yes, a lot of that synopsis sounds familiar to other such genre films, but you have to trust me. This film elevates above the others through some exceptional writing.
One of the things that really sold me on the film I was watching was how it pulled no punches in the execution of the plot. There seemed to be little special about John Garrity. He was not a major scientist (as Butler was in Geostorm) or a former government agent of some sort. He was just a normal guy who had his own problems. I immediately was able to accept Butler in the role. It fit him beatifully.
Another thing Greenland did was it showed how horrible the situation was as the Garritys had to face the fact that they were leaving their friends and family behind. There were some scenes of real anguish where they were faced with desperate parents begging them to take their child too, and John knowing that they were restricted from doing it. The audience knew the result of John’s rejection of the idea, and the film did not shy away from showing the anxiety built by these near-Sophie’s choice like moments.
But what this film does above all else that I loved was how it elevated the no name heroes to a huge status. It did not just show the dark side of the human condition (looting, violent reactions etc.), but it showed the men and women of the human race just trying to help where they could. The army major (Merrin Dungey) who there doing her job despite having to leave her own family behind. The nurse who is able to help Nathan with his diabetes during a time where he had been separated from his parents. The family willing to pick up Allison alongside of the road and take her with them. The kind hearted young man who told John about the flight to Greenland. These were characters who were, most likely, not going to survive the extinction level event that was coming, but who were simply trying to do what they could to make a difference where they could. It was a true portrait of the best of the human society and it was the message that stuck with me more than those who embraced the chaos.
Scott Glenn had a short, but powerful appearance as Allison’s father. In just a few scenes, Glenn was able to imbue Dale with a humanity and a forgiveness that was desperately required for his family.
Roger Dale Floyd does a great job as Nathan, and the character of Nathan is allowed to be smart. There is one scene in particular where Nathan is in deep trouble, but he does the smart thing instead of the typically stupid choice that is served to just extend the plot. When that happened, I actually fist pumped and I was so proud of Nathan. That’s weird I know, but I loved that he was given the opportunity to be a real person.
Sure the movie has its warts too. There are definitely coincidences that happen to allow the Garritys to make it to where they were going and the trip to Canada seemed fairly simple (with the exception of one firestorm). Still, those are things that can be ignored with suspension of disbelief. Truthfully, there is less suspension of disbelief needed here than most of this type of genre movie.
And the ending of the movie was not necessarily strong. There was a spot where I thought the movie was going to end which would have left me feeling differently than where it ultimately did end at. I kind of wish they would have gone with the more uncertain conclusion.
So while this is not a perfect movie and it does get weighed down at times with the conventions of the genre, Greenland elevates so much more beyond the typical clichés and expectations of a disaster film that it was a sweet surprise and a film that I truly enjoyed watching.