There’s nothing like an uplifting, feel-good end-of-the-world scenario to bring a fractured family together. Movies like War of the Worlds, 2012, Armageddon, and Deep Impact prove that disasters both natural and unnatural can unite a family. (And, typically, the more Caucasian, the better since some lives matter more than others in Hollywood’s eyes.) Whether the world ends or not almost doesn’t matter when the stakes are high for families looking to reconcile before the world crashes down or, more likely, the random, background characters whose unfortunate, if ultimately meaningless, deaths underscore the reel-world stakes on screen.
Gerard Butler, Saving the World One More, Last Time
It’s a tired, cliché-laden, over-leveraged genre. But give credit to actor-producer Gerard Butler, director Ric Roman Waugh (Angel Has Fallen, Snitch), and writer Chris Sparling (The Sea of Trees, Buried) for doing their self-consciously serious best. They wring as much pathos as possible from the apocalyptic premise underlying Greenland. No longer bothering to hide his Scottish accent, Butler plays the generically named John Garrity, an Atlanta-based structural engineer struggling to reconcile with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin). An undisclosed incident previously threatened to ruin the beautiful life (and beautiful wife) that Garrity, in his finite wisdom, took for granted. He finds himself temporarily sheltering elsewhere and on the outside looking into the family’s mini-mansion. That comfortably upper-middle-class, bourgeois life also included — and still includes — Garrity’s incredibly well-behaved, diabetic preteen son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). He’s the apparent center of Garrity and Allison’s lives.
When the President Calls, Pick Up
It might not be all good, but at least for Garrity, there’s still hope he can repair his marriage right up until he gets an odd “presidential alert” on his cell phone and, later, on his 4K TV screen. Garrity and his family have been hand-selected by an obscure, unnamed government bureaucracy to survive an extinction-level event. A massive, multi-object comet new to the solar system is headed straight for Earth and becomes the ticking clock to their reconciliation. Within minutes of a cometary fragment obliterating an unsuspecting Tampa and leaving Garrity and his family safe, it becomes obvious to everyone that the world’s about to end. Only a chosen few, hidden safely in underground bunkers (spoiler alert: Greenland) stand a chance of surviving the coming wave of mass destruction. Naturally, Garrity becomes a man of action, although thanks to Sparling’s competent script, Waugh’s unobtrusive direction, and Butler’s relatively subdued performance, a believable one.
You Get an Underground Bunker, You Get …
Along the way to that underground bunker, Garrity and his family encounter predictable obstacles, including stunned, disbelieving neighbours who beg them to take their children to the bunker. Nathan’s meds add several not-unexpected complications. The family temporarily splits, which leads to essentially two story tracks: one following Garrity as he tries to reconnect with his lost family, the other with Allison and Nathan, who encounter a seemingly helpful couple that further splits the trio. While nothing qualifies as surprising except the swift demise of an African-American character, Greenland moves along at a not unpleasant speed. It lingers just long enough for parting glances at a rapidly deteriorating social world without turning exploitative. It adds one complication or problem after another for Garrity and his family to overcome, then goes exactly where one expects in the final moments.
Though periodically hindered by an obviously limited visual effects budget and occasional background extras who presumably weren’t informed that they were participating in an end-of-the-world scenario and not a family-oriented road movie, Greenland’s modest, scaled-down thrills mixed with family drama won’t win any major awards. (Or minor ones for that matter.) But with a seemingly never-ending pandemic making a non-bunkered lifestyle difficult, if not impossible, until sometime next year, a pre- and post-apocalyptic thriller feels reassuring. It might even feel comforting to see the world’s inhabitants — or to be more accurate, some of the world’s inhabitants — come together for the future of humanity.
Greenland is available for rent or purchase via VOD.