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edge staff writer


‘Greenland’ offers a different kind of apocalypse

December 21, 2020
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I’ll admit to having had some fun at Gerard Butler’s expense over the years. He’s made some interesting choices, particularly in recent years, from the increasingly outlandish “[Something] has Fallen” series to ridiculous genre offerings like “Geostorm” and “Hunter Killer” to the outright execrable “Gods of Egypt.”

Quite the resume, no?

That being said, I’ve always derived enjoyment from these movies precisely BECAUSE they’re so flawed. Butler has carved out a niche as the guy you call to star in your nonsense movie. He’s good at it, lending an unearned gravitas to projects (I personally prefer him in his natural accent, but his generic American works just as well) that otherwise would sink unnoticed to the bottom of the VOD seas.

“Greenland” – directed by Ric Roman Waugh from a script by Chris Sparling – is a perfect example of the kind of B-movie sensibility to which Butler has hitched his wagon over the past near-decade, a straightforward end-of-the-world movie that nevertheless manages to engage on a more individualized level. It’s a film that embraces its budgetary limitations, giving us a film that is heavy on the human element rather than CGI pageantry.

Now, is it a great movie? Of course not – this is Gerard Butler we’re talking about. But it is an undeniably fun movie, one that manages to prove surprisingly moving in moments despite the general outlandishness of its plot machinations. We’ve seen a lot of apocalypses play out on the silver screen over the years, and while “Greenland” certainly isn’t the best of the bunch, it is far from the worst.

Butler is John Garrity, a structural engineer working in and around Atlanta. He’s one of the best in the business, but his personal life is far from perfect. In fact, he and his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin, “Ode to Joy”) are in the midst of a separation. They’re still trying to work things out for the sake of their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd, “Doctor Sleep”), but it’s beginning to look like their differences are truly irreconcilable.

Outside their familial drama, the world is consumed with news about a recently discovered and rapidly approaching comet. Named Clarke, word is that it will pass closer to Earth than any astronomical object in recorded history – so close that it’ll be visible during daylight hours. And with each passing day, the forecast shifts, moving from passing us completely to a few fragments evaporating in our atmosphere to some small pieces actually reaching the ground. Officials the world over are adamant in ensuring the public that everything is under control.

John, out at the grocery store with Nathan buying supplies for his son’s birthday party, receives a strange text message – a Presidential Alert. This followed by a phone call wherein a robotic voice informs him that he and his family have been selected to go to a nearby military base where they will be transported to shelter. Confused and afraid, he heads back home, where he finds his wife and neighbors – all there for the party – in the living room, eagerly looking forward to watching the predicted-to-be-harmless ocean impact of Clarke’s first fragment.

Instead, it hits central Florida near Tampa – and annihilates everything for miles around, the shockwave reaching as far as the Garrity house in the Atlanta suburbs. Hundreds of thousands are dead. And the Garritys are left to do whatever they can to find their way to safety.

What follows is a harrowing journey following this small family as they struggle to get themselves to promised shelter – a journey that forces the Garritys to confront the fact that there are others out there willing to do great evil in order to save themselves. And as the news grows ever more grim – word of an impact large enough to cause an extinction-level event looming barely a day away – it’s a race against time. Will they join humanity’s survivors? Or will they be wiped away like so many billions of others?

“Greenland” is good old-fashioned pulp fun, a film that views the impending end through a micro lens rather than a macro. We’re not following people trying to save the world, but rather those who simply hope to survive. Through them, we get glimpses at the collapse prompted by unavoidable doom, both sudden and gradual. It is judicious with its effects, using them as storytelling tools rather than a crutch – a welcome change for this kind of film.

Director Waugh is clearly comfortable with his star – he previously helmed “Angel has Fallen” and already has another Butler-led film in pre-production. And you can see hints of Waugh’s previous life as a prolific stunt performer in some of the more action-oriented moments (though those are surprisingly few considering what kind of movie this is). It’s solid, meat-and-potatoes filmmaking – a B-movie that can be enjoyed on its merits rather than ironically.

Granted, the plot is pretty thin in general and gets downright threadbare in the final act – if you stop to think about any of this, you’re going to find yourself with A LOT of questions. That said, one of the many good choices here is the decision to convey almost all information about the crisis through news reports, an easily digested shorthand that eliminates the need for exposition-dump explanatory sequences. We don’t need the science, so we don’t get the science – just some quick-hit segments viewed through a media lens.

Butler is at his best when he’s either a weirdo loose cannon or a desperate man protecting his family. He’s the latter here, and it works (and he’s using his own accent, which is nice). There’s much less of the sentient wad of white bread vibe that he so often gives off; he’s solid here. Baccarin gets more to do here than the wife usually does in this kind of movie and takes advantage. The kid’s pretty good too, though he does get a little hammy in spots. The supporting cast has some gems – Scott Glenn turns up as Allison’s dad for a stretch, doing his usual grizzled tough guy shtick to perfections, while Hope Davis and David Denman carry a subplot as a couple that may or may not have some questionable motivations.

“Greenland” isn’t a great film, but it is far better than I expected it to be. Rather than the big-budget bombast of apocalyptic blockbusters, it’s a focused, engaging look at what it might mean to have to navigate the end of the world. It doesn’t all make sense, but it doesn’t have to – just go along for the ride and you’ll have a good time.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 December 2020 17:10

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