Shockingly, the long-delayed comet disaster movie finds remarkable pathos and strong performances from Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin.
Nothing heals a broken marriage like the end of the world. That’s one of the takeaways from Greenland, a disaster movie about a massive comet that has Earth, and Gerard Butler, in its crosshairs. Butler plays John Garrity, a structural engineer who finds his marriage to Allison (Morena Baccarin) falling apart, just like the giant comet (named Clarke) that’s breaking up into smaller pieces so it can spread its damage all over the planet before its big chunk hits, creating a mass extinction event.
John tries to reconcile with his wife, while also trying to get them and their diabetic son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), to a secret underground bunker in Greenland. It’s reserved for people deemed “important” to rebuild the world after the devastation, and since John knows how to build stuff, his family is one of the lucky chosen few to survive the apocalypse.
On an emotional disaster movie scale from Geostorm to Deep Impact, the movie is refreshingly much more on the Deep Impact end. (The best of the Asteroid Destroying Earth genre, Lars von Trier’s devastating Melancholia, is on a completely different scale.)
There’s still plenty of big, dumb explosions to satisfy people looking for that, especially a scene involving a hailstorm of fire raining down from the sky that makes no sense but is the closest to an amusement park ride we can safely go on this year. Director Ric Roman Waugh, a longtime Hollywood stuntman-turned-filmmaker (last seen with Butler in Angel Has Fallen), grounds the bombast with a story of a father trying his best to keep his family alive while the world burns around them. Steven Spielberg attempts something similar in 2005’s War of the Worlds. The special effects in that movie are much better, but I bet that Butler can play catch with his children like a normal human.
This movie’s also sneakily emotionally devastating, thanks to genuinely affecting performances from Butler and Baccarin. In a scene early in the film, when John’s family gets the call to go to the Greenland bunker, one of their neighbors begs them to take their small daughter. John refuses since he knows she’ll be turned away, but Butler so convincingly plays a man struggling with this brutal decision, while the rest of the actors in the scene cry with such genuine pain that I found myself tearing up at the Gerard Butler disaster movie without realizing it.
The themes of privilege and inequality, ideas the movie mostly commits to despite some shortcomings, is what makes Greenland much more interesting than it has any right to be. The idea of only certain people getting the chance to ride out the end of the world while the rest of humanity has to be engulfed in flames is probably timelier than the filmmakers even imagined when making this. When people watch this from the comfort of their homes, where they also work their day jobs and eat food that’s delivered to them, while so many others don’t have that luxury, this should hit even harder.
I found myself tearing up at the Gerard Butler disaster movie without realizing it.
Once the movie gets going, the plot becomes more repetitive. It becomes a series of events that separate the main characters, then getting them back together, separating, and repeating the process. Luckily, during this lagging middle section is Baccarin’s time to shine. The roadblocks that get in her way are mostly arbitrary and nonsensical, but the way she physically and emotionally fights for everything with the real spirit of a mother protecting her own, makes an otherwise thankless role into something worth watching.
This middle section should also be a sigh of relief for viewers who are scared Gerard Butler will just be a loving father and a husband trying to make things work with his estranged wife. Rest assured, there is a hammer fight in the back of a moving truck. Yes, Butler does kill a bad guy in gruesome fashion with said hammer, and no, he never tells his wife and child that he brutally murders someone.
Greenland isn’t a perfect film, but it’s the rare big spectacle apocalypse movie that tries for something deeper. Besides being a strong case for why America should maybe actually purchase the world’s biggest island in case of incoming celestial rocks, it’s also a good case for disaster films to lead with their hearts instead of their special effects.
Greenland is currently seeking a friend for the end of the world on demand.
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