Ric Roman Waugh’s latest is a surprising disaster flick that builds the tension and stays entertaining throughout. On its surface, Greenland bears a resemblance to the tried-and-true cookie cutter version of disaster films; all the familiar tropes are prevalent here. Fortunately for moviegoers, Waugh’s minimalistic approach to the genre allows for an entertaining ride. Are there some eye-roll inducing scenes? Yes, of course. But for the most part, Greenland sticks to a brisk pace that will keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seat during its 2-hour run time.
Shortly after an extinction-inducing comet is discovered, John Garrity (Gerard Butler) receives an automated message from the Presidential Office, relaying that he and his family have been selected to take shelter in an underground bunker. Almost immediately, the survivor’s guilt kicks in, but John, his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), pack their bags and head to the local Air Force base. The journey to the confidential bunker is a long one, and the Garrity family must race against the impending doomsday clock.
Greenland is at its best when things are tense, and the pace moves quickly. Waugh made the brilliant decision to allow these actors and the story to develop on their own, without making anything seem too ridiculous. The plot touches on many of these usual things we could come to expect, like a family’s desperate attempt to stay together, or the almost tangible helplessness that comes with not being “chosen” to survive. These scenes develop organically, and the suspense feels natural rather than forced.
Even while being truly entertaining, Greenland is not without its shortcomings. Waugh choses to shoot much of Greenland with extreme close-up shots and a jerky camera. Although the intent is undoubtedly to show these scenes in a chaotic and helpless manner, the poor cinematography can be somewhat distracting. Some of the heart-to-heart scenes between Butler and Baccarin come off extremely flat, and the plot doesn’t do much to really attach the viewer to these characters. In one sense, this can make the movie a bit more exciting, as these hollow characters can act more as a conduit to place the spectator in the situation. Surprisingly, the underwhelming acting and poor dialog are not enough to derail the film; the romantic notion of an extinction event is enough to drive most of the entertainment.
Greenland checks all the appropriate boxes for a blockbuster disaster movie. This may be a turn off to some, but Waugh’s approach to the genre is definitely an intriguing one. While he does nothing revolutionary, the former stuntman-turned-director allows the terrifying prospect of a planet-killer comet to drive the tension. We see the best and worst in people. We see a father and mother’s absolute desperation and will to protect their son. But most importantly, Greenland‘s grounded approach allows viewers to think, just for a second, about how they would react in the same situation.