Movie Review: Greenland
Greenland is a 2020 disaster film starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin. MINOR SPOILERS WARNING The premise of the film involves the approach of a comet called (stupidly enough) "Clarke" towards Earth. Initially, the science-types predict that it will simply be a spectacular "near miss" that will provide entertaining views in the night time sky. Ooops.
Butler and Baccarin play an estranged married couple with a diabetic 7 year-old son. They are attempting a reconciliation at least in part to spare their kid the trauma of a full-blown divorce. At first I couldn't place where I'd seen Baccarin before. Google advised that she was "Mrs. Deadpool", which means it was she who offered one of the best movie lines in recent history ("After a brief adjustment period and a bunch of drinks, it's a face...I'd be happy to sit on"). Butler, who is Scottish, plays a character from Scotland (conveniently enough) and goes full on Scottish brogue the entire film.
As the comet heats up during its approach to the sun, its pieces start releasing bursts of gas that alter their trajectories. The "near miss, watch it with your friends" quickly turns into "extinction level event". Too bad the PhDs at NASA could have never predicted that. But shaky realities aside, there was a lot to like about this movie.
There are two camps in discussions of disaster/dystopia films. One is the "everyone will be an asshole" group, and the other is "humans are fundamentally decent and will pull together in times of crisis" group. The membership of the latter group seems exceptionally large which makes me think they don't ever watch the news. But I digress. The characters in Greenland are mostly in group A (for "asshole"). The government has a system in place that notifies certain highly-valued citizens (because of their skills) that they have won the survival lottery via cell phone messages. These people are directed to report to a nearby airport so they can be transported to a facility with a bunch of survival bunkers located in..... Greenland. Butler and his kid are at the grocery store when Butler gets his notification. This creates a really interesting dynamic when he gets back home because he and the wife were hosting a "comet watch" party with all their closest friends and neighbors. Right after they see Tampa get obliterated on national TV, Butler announces that he got this message on his phone and asks if anyone else did. Crickets. How awkward. So he has a "dodge extinction" card for himself, his wife, and his kid but no one else has one. Talk about testing your friendships.
There is the predictable "oh no, we are separated and running out of time" plot arc. The a-holes come out in droves trying to acquire a "dodge extinction" card which is in the form of a wrist bracelet similar to the ones you get when you arrive at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. In every movie I've ever seen Butler in, he's a cop, or a Secret Service Agent, or King of the Spartans. You know, a badass. In Greenland, he has to throw hands a few times and looks like the concept is completely foreign to him. I had the same feeling watching Sarah Michelle-Gellar in "I Know What You Did Last Summer" run like a weenie from the killer instead of going full "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" on him.
We later get the deep philosophical stuff typically ushered in by imminent death. Butler's father-in-law (who looks like he already died a few years earlier), takes the "I've had a good run" approach to imminent death and chooses not to do anything to try and save himself. Butler is more of the "it doesn't matter what happens as long as we are together" type, which is interesting since we later find out that the reason they are getting a divorce is because he cheated on his wife.
I'm sounding like I didn't like this movie. I actually did. The scenes of the comet as viewed from the ground were really cool. The depictions of mass destruction as pieces of it hit the Earth were well done, too. I thought the actions of the general populace were great in certain respects. There were assholes aplenty, as I'd expect. Even Butler threatens to keep an entire airplane full of people grounded if it doesn't allow him and the family to board. But the entire administration of the "transfer of winners" operation is done entirely by volunteer military personnel who didn't get chosen. For me, that was the hardest pill this movie asks you to swallow.
Hard scifi purists might take issue with this film. For starters, NASA apparently botches the assessment of Clarke's threat level. There is a suggestion that it merely provided a rosy message early on to prevent mass panic, but Butler's notification came very late in the process. Prior to the arrival of the Big Chunk (the "size of a sports stadium"), a scientist explains that its impact will result in a laundry list of nasty physical effects including 900 mph winds (that are hot!). He explains that this is an "extinction level event". Yet, nine months post impact, survivors crawl out of their bunkers to find the sun shining (the dinosaurs will be so pissed when they find out about this) and birds flying around. Because if there is one creature that can survive 900 mph winds of fire, it's a bird.
In all, a fun movie with an occasional case of "the dumbs". The little kid is beyond annoying and you might wonder why his parents don't just drop him in a ditch and increase their own chances of survival. Grandpa was hard to sympathize with when he takes his "I don't run from nothin'" position. But the film makers didn't pull the "what about our beloved pet?" card, which was nice. I'm all in favor of disaster films where Fido gets to share in the happily ever after.