I’m a sucker for disaster flicks. Disaster flicks are perhaps my guiltiest of guilty pleasure subgenres in Hollywood because, let’s be honest, a lot of them aren’t that smart or logical or whatever, but they’re freaking fun. I’m thinking of Independence Day, Armageddon, 2012, Twister (although, that’s more localized), Contagion, and one of my favorites growing up, The Core.
The latest one I’ve watched was 2020’s Greenland starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin (she’s always been one of my low-key favorite actresses; she brings authenticity to any role she does on the big or small screen) as somewhat estranged parents (he cheated on her) trying to survive with their diabetic son as an extinction-level comet named Clarke quite literally rains hellfire down upon the Earth.
At first, the parents and the kids are watching the impending fragment of Clarke descend into the ocean with smiles and eating popcorn, thinking it’s much ado about nothing. Then, the proverbial crap begins hitting the fan, as Gerard’s character receives a government presidential alert notifying him that he and his family are one of the chosen ones to go to a secure bunker. He’s an architect of skyscrapers, so I suppose the government sees that as valuable in a post-apocalyptic world.
That idea — only a few people are allowed to be saved — is not exactly a new concept. I believe it was done with the other disaster film, 2012. That said, it makes sense that the government, theoretically, would have a contingency plan in place of some sort in the event of something extinction-level. At minimum, I wouldn’t be surprised if those bunkers actually did dot the world just in case.
Anyhow, Gerard’s character being chosen creates the thrust of the film as the parents are trying to get to the military base and then onto the planes to the classified bunkers. Whoops, they forgot their child’s diabetic medicine in the car. But, turns out, it doesn’t matter because diabetes is a disqualifying case. The kid can’t go on the plane. Gerard and Morena (with the kid) get split up. She passes a note to him at their vehicle that she’s going to Lexington, Kentucky to be with her dad and to meet her there.
However, as both try to journey to Lexington, they run into issues. First, Morena and the kid run into a psychotic couple who pushes her out of the car and kidnaps the kid in a bid to get on the plane. A fun connection to today’s earlier review of Mare of Easttown is that the psycho man of the couple is played by David Denman, who is Frank Sheehan (Mare’s ex-husband) in the TV series. Fortunately, the kid is brave as hell and tells the military he’s been kidnapped, and they separate him from the psycho couple. Meanwhile, Gerard gets into a caravan heading north — wherein he overhears the pivotal information about going to Canada and then to Greenland to the bunkers — where two psychos try to steal his wristband, which allows him to get onto the military planes. He ends up having to kill one of them, though.
Oh, and as all of this inter-personal drama is going on, and us viewers are wondering how they’ll get back together, the world is being destroyed by fragments of Clarke, and then the news that the fragment, bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, is coming in 48 hours, impacting Europe and killing most life on Earth.
The special effects of the fragments hitting Earth and the “sky being on fire,” actually look quite great. It’s good use of CGI here. And it’s used sparingly. Instead, director Ric Roman Waugh opts to focus more on that inter-personal family drama, which is great! We don’t usually see that in disaster films. Instead, we don’t care about the characters and it becomes “disaster porn.” Here, that’s subverted, and we do care about the plight of this family and instead, see the disaster through their limited lens. I like that choice, even if it means the film slows down quite a bit at points and feels long. That’s a worthwhile trade-off to get real tension based on caring about the characters.
After a few close calls, they all make it back to the dad’s house in Lexington. The reason they were able to and then eventually making a wild jaunt to Greenland, is because even amid the chaos, there were good people along the way. I hate end-of-the-world films where everyone is basically bad and losing their minds. Instead, we do get genuinely bad and desperate people here, but we also get heroes throughout who help the main characters, because, of course they would? The helpers always exist. And then there’s the ones embracing it, as we see a scene of partiers on a roof watching the fragments come, which is reminiscent of Independence Day, where they cheered on the aliens. That also makes sense. People are going to cope different. Some will shrink in the face of it, others will step up and still others will accept their fate, as the partygoers do and even the couple’s father in Lexington does, opting to stay back at the farm rather than join them in Greenland.
In the end, they make it to the bunkers within minutes of impact and the last image we see is the bunker doors opening after the survivors have been underground for nine months, seeing birds flying, ash clearing, and radio calls around the world of survivors checking in.
Now that is the film I want to see. I don’t know how “filmic” it would be, but I would love to see a film dedicated to how a society rebuilds with its chosen survivors after an extinction-level event. The main concern I have here is that all of these people are probably still going to die anyway. It’s not enough that the ash cleared. After the asteroid hit the Earth killing the dinosaurs, there were multiple mega tsunamis with waves as high as one mile, multiple earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. All of which effects the ability of life on earth to continue. The climate would have been a mess and I’m skeptical the surviving humans would be able to survive underground much longer with existing food storage and medicine reserves.
Anyhow, overall, I thought Greenland was a fun film that kept my attention. They didn’t overdo Gerard’s heroics. Yeah, it’s still unbelievable that they all three managed to survive and get to Greenland and the bunkers, but it wasn’t like Gerard was doing a lot of hand-to-hand combat or anything. He was a desperate dad bungling his way through the end of the world. And importantly, because of the plot where the parents get separated, Morena gets to exist as her own character rather than merely a character-of-convenience for Gerard’s. That also helped you to care for these characters.
If you’re looking for a fun, earnest and tension-filled two hours of hell-on-Earth, head over to HBO Max or Amazon and check this out.