Capping off a year that feels like a disaster in and of itself, we get Greenland, which is a surprisingly down to earth disaster movie. It’s a concept audiences have seen before, but Greenland wisely focuses on a single family trying to survive. So, while viewers may miss the grandiose scale of other disaster movies where disparate groups come together to achieve a goal, instead audiences will get an intimate story that feels much more relatable and much more frustrating.
A comet named Clark is hurtling near Earth. As chunks of Clark begin to breach the atmosphere and cause cataclysmic damage, the United States government begins selecting specific people and their families to be evacuated. One lucky family is the Garrity’s: John (Gerard Butler), his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). Unfortunately, due to mishaps and miscommunication, don’t actually qualify for evacuation. Separated from each other and with no sure way to be saved from the planet-killing comet, the Garrity family must find a way to reunite and discover a solution for surviving the end of the world.
Greenland is surprisingly grounded for a disaster movie that affects the entire planet. The cast doesn’t span across continents or involve esoteric groups like NASA or federal bureaucracies. No one is training a team to send to space to drill the comet. Instead, the film follows one family, which most viewers will be able to relate to. Their challenges are every person’s challenge: government screwup, civil unrest, desperate people trying to survive, and all of the small mistakes that stack up to become a giant problem. On one hand, it’s refreshing that the problems feel like they could actually happen in real life. On the other hand, there are so many unexpected problems that the challenges the family faces become exhausting.
The family encounters so many unpredictable problems that it’s difficult to feel like the members are making any headway when a new problem can arise at any time. The Garrity’s son, Nathan, is diabetic and needs his medication to survive. Early on, the Garrity’s have to abandon their vehicle on their way to evacuation at an army base, and Nathan has accidentally left his medication in their SUV. This mishap forces John to run back to the highway to fetch the medicine. While he’s gone, Allison discovers that the military won’t let the family on one of the planes because Nathan has a chronic illness. So, now John thinks his wife and child are on one of the planes even though they’ve been left behind to fend for themselves. Through blind luck, John figures out what’s going on and abandons evacuation to find his family. Compounding matters is that cell phone service – including data – doesn’t work, so the separated family members have to find a way to communicate on meeting at a familiar location.
The events are believable and compelling. It’s just that there are so many problems spread across the family members as they get separated that it’s wearying to have an emotional investment in everything that’s happening. What would have helped is a little more character development.
The comet and its threat to the Garritys takes priority, so audiences don’t get much time to learn about the characters and decide if they’re likeable or not. Early on, the film hints at some marital distress between John and Allison, but it’s unclear who’s at fault. The film tries to return to character-building late in the film, but by then it’s hard to care.
Despite all of these issues, Greenland is still entertaining. Production quality is high enough. The actors do as much as they can with their roles. And the supporting cast does yeoman’s work of selling the believability of the film. Issues with the writing aside, Greenland is one of the better films available to audiences currently.