Gerard Butler has developed a taste for disaster (movies) it seems. On the back of 2017’s Geostorm, a mediocre but mildly entertaining effort, he returns to the genre alongside Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh.
Like a lot of films produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greenland will opt to skip theatres and instead, head straight to streaming platforms later this year on December 18.
In terms of the spectacle that a disaster movie offers, it’s a bold but understandable choice to make this available on the home screen rather than cinemas. For decades, audiences have engorged themselves on the marvellous effects of the genre; cataclysmic destruction, apocalyptic stakes, and outlandish circumstances, all unfolding on larger-than-life screens. It’s fair to say, these types of films deserve bigger.
Thankfully however, Greenland delivers more than just an abundance of CGI to dazzle our senses and instead, tells a more grounded story of humanity struggling to cope with their impermanence in the face of certain annihilation. It’s a smaller, more intimate film.
Butler plays John Garrity, a burly structural engineer living with his estranged wife Allison (played by Morena Baccarin, best known as Deadpool’s girlfriend) and their son Nathan. It’s a normal day in the suburbs as John and Allison are busy making dinner- party preparations for their howdy-there neighbours and close friends, all of which have made arrangements to gather for the live broadcast of comet Clarke, a recently announced phenomena that will be visible as it safely passes over America. A last minute request to stock up on precious hot dog buns sends John and his son to the grocery store, where he notices subtle hints that something is afoot. Subtle like the mobilisation of military cargo planes converging overhead. We’ve all been there.
Before John can leave the store his phone pings off with an alert followed by an automated recording from Homeland Security. The message dictates that John and his immediate family, Allison and Nathan, have been selected for emergency shelter and must proceed to a nearby airport for immediate evacuation. Confused by the contradictory news reporting of the comet’s threat, he heads home to confer with his wife, who rather unwittingly, missed the same alert being simultaneously broadcast to their home television set.
Upon returning home, the Garrity’s friends and neighbours have now arrived and the broadcast of comet Clarke shows its fragments falling to Earth. The original predictions indicating that the pieces will fall somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean appear to be false, as the fragments impact Tampa, Florida instead, laying waste to the landscape and sending shockwaves that are felt for miles outside. While John is trying to make sense of the government’s instructions, the same alert as before interrupts him and again, displays the message on their television. This time though, all of their guests are present to witness it and also the subsequent announcement that a cluster of objects are set to hit Earth in the next 48 hours, causing an extinction level event. John’s family have their government instruction along with a QR code for entry through airport security, but not everyone is so lucky.
And this is the terror that Greenland builds itself upon. The Garrity’s have a shot at survival, if they can make it to the airport on time for departure but along the way, they’ll have to make excruciatingly painful decisions, like choosing to leave a child behind or driving past helpless citizens for fear of them being rejected at the checkpoint. The stakes increase when their son Nathan’s diabetes plays an important role in unexpectedly pivoting the story. This is where the film shines as it dives in on humanity’s despair. Where it’s every man and woman for themselves, where the boundaries of society collapse under a lawless state and we see how far citizens will go in order to secure their safety.
Rioting breaks out, looting, killings, desperate attempts for survival take precedent over anything else. In a world such as ours, where all too often we’re divided rather than united, much of what unfolds on-screen is in some ways, almost believable were this ever to happen. With climate change threatening our way of life, the pandemic sweeping our planet, wars being waged for land and profit, Greenland doesn’t stretch itself too far outside of the predictable behaviours of mankind.
Which leads me to a comment I read about Greenland only today, that it’s like a “Roland Emmerich film with less budget, bombast and in-your-face patriotism.” Or something to that effect and ultimately, I’m inclined to agree. I think what the comment eludes to, is that Greenland isn’t a film that is chock full of big spectacle CGI moments and dick swinging moments, it is a “disaster movie” yes, but it’s more interested in telling the story on ground level, with us, than it is on what’s going on above our heads. Whether the film’s budget played a part in the overall story direction I don’t know but for better or worse, Greenland boldly steps outside of what we’re typically used to seeing with these films, and it pays off.
Greenland is a tense, pulse-racing and surprising film with Gerard Butler making a welcome return to form. Whilst not the typical Hollywood showcase of glamourous special effects that many may expect, it sets itself apart from the norm by being a little more gritty, a little more personal and overall, a little more human.