The disaster film is one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres. If it has loud effects, stunning visuals, and tension-filled moments from actors on screen dodging various debris then sign me up. You had me at “it’s the end of the world as we know it.” Set to release to hit theaters and VOD platforms this Friday, Greenland is a disaster film by B-movie action director Ric Roman Waugh. Waugh you may recognize as that guy whose movies you keep meaning to watch, like Snitch, Shot Caller, or Angel Has Fallen, but more likely you’d know him as the legendary stuntman for films like Lethal Weapon 2, Roadhouse, or Total Recall—That is an impressive resumé, right? That guy knows action, all of a sudden I’m thinking I need to go watch Snitch.
Waugh re-teams with his Angel Has Fallen star Gerard Butler for an end of the world film the likes of which you’ve…definitely seen before. I mean, honestly, they’re not really all that different from each other. Every disaster film is just a race to the finish, only the scope and what kind of disaster really ever change. Sometimes it’s aliens, sometimes it’s a volcano, and sometimes it’s comet fragments hurtling towards earth threatening to wipe out life on earth. Greenland is goes with this latter.
The film’s opening sees nervous John Garrity (Butler) attempt to stay at his construction site job avoiding his family. There’s the obvious sense there’s some trouble between John and his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) throughout the following scenes as John makes his way back into his house, wondering whether to ring the bell or walk right in. I mean where’s the drama of coming together if these characters aren’t fighting? It’s kind of a genre cliché at this point, this setup is used in San Andreas, Skyscraper, The Wave, Twister, etc. and to Greenland’s credit the leads at least have some chemistry… looking at you Skyscraper.
John has been separated from his wife and son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), for some time now and this weekend is the ultimate test for John to reconnect with his family. Nathan has asked his mom if he can throw a party to celebrate and watch the celestial illumination of comet Clark, as it passes closely by Earth. Greenland has some nice timing with its central story, this past November an asteroid made its way in between the Earth and the moon, the earth may not have ever been in any danger but the news did cause just the right amount of anxiety to ask if such a thing could be possible in a year like 2020.
All the noticeable signs start pointing to something far larger happening in the world, from bird migrations, to military aircraft all headed in one direction, and John receiving a presidential alert system broadcast on his phone telling him that he and his family have been selected by lottery to receive shelter per order of Homeland Security. It is a smart method of doing things, but we did see this in Deep Impact as well as Futurama’s “A Farewell to Arms,” where, in both, the end of the world prompts a lottery for a few lucky souls to avoid the fate of an E.L.E. (or extinction level event).
The best part of Greenland is how it attempts to make a backdrop for the fall of civility and society, it does it very well in the first act especially. John and family are standing in front of the TV as a piece of Clark misses the ocean and hits Florida, surrounded by all of their friends and neighbors as the alert is broadcast again over the family television and on John’s phone. As the neighbors begin to argue we also get various stages of grief going on between them, from denial to bargaining and in one case acceptance, as John must do what’s right for his family by getting them into the car and to a nearby Air Force base as the message instructed. As societal norms begin to slowly break down, the neighbors are outside looking towards the skyline, gripping their phones awaiting a message to say that they too shall be saved.
It’s a gripping scene at the start of the film and the more the characters are introduced to situations where civility is abandoned and chaos reigns, the better the film gets, similar to the way Indie Australian film These Final Hours unfolded as well. As in both films characters have to make a choice between their animal and human natures, and Greenland begins to do that in its second act as the Garritys try to navigate the newfound chaos while retaining their ever-slipping civility. The final act is one of hope and the human spirit, as most against all-odds-disaster films are, especially as the Garrity’s find out that one of the pieces of the comet is bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.
As you may have ascertained from my oddly vast knowledge of the disaster genre, this film really doesn’t offer a lot in the way of things that you haven’t seen before. I noticed plenty of other plot points and genre nods from 2012 to Dante’s Peak, that the movie utilizes in putting itself together. However, Greenland somehow pulls it off, creating a compilation of disaster films’ greatest hits. It’s extremely watchable, likable, tense, thrilling, and entertaining as hell. It does suffer from a couple of pacing issues in the start of its second and third acts but just enough to let you know that some intensely fun action is just around the corner.
Finally, the sound work in Greenland is incredible and a true highlight as well. Whether it’s a shock-wave or a gun shot, heavy breathing or an explosion, the sound team did fantastic work in keeping my focus on the screen and on one occasion made me physically jump from something unexpected.
Greenland is a far from a perfect film, there’s plenty of small plot holes and obvious genre tropes baked into the script, but it is one of those fun popcorn flicks that really would have benefited from a viewing in the theater, but these are the times we live in.
Greenland will be available on VOD December 18.