Big disaster films at the end of the world usually range from Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996) to Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009) to Roland Emmerich’s career after 2012, but sometimes it’s the smaller, quieter apocalypses that leave more lasting marks. Think, for example, of The Quiet Earth from 1985 or The Final Hours from 2013. The latest film to target humanity takes the latter path, and it does it Greenland delivers some CG slaughter, it’s the intensely human horrors that make it a destination well worth visiting.
John Garrity (Gerard Butler) is a civil engineer, but his most important project is rebuilding the relationship with his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). However, he may run out of time as a comet rushes toward Earth, destined to put on a spectacular light show. While the media is suggesting a harmless representation in the sky, the US government knows the truth – the fragments of the comet will hit the surface, causing massive destruction and effectively ending human civilization. John and his family are selected for placement in a remote shelter, but their journey to safety turns into a battle for survival against panicked people, government regulations, and large chunks of space rock.
Greenland provides thrills at the end of the world, while most of that epic destruction is off-screen. Instead, it focuses on the individuals, creating an intensity and terror that last longer than anything that could produce effects. director Ric Roman Waugh and writers Chris Sparling blow things up here and there, but it’s the very human fear of losing loved ones that is paramount. Brutal violence, gruesome acts of desperation, and the wavering hope that none of it will be enough are the emotional destruction the film needs.
Butler is no stranger to the fight against space debris, but while Geostorm (2017) takes the path of shock and awe with CG destruction, he has far more intense battles here. The three make it to safety early enough, but the harrowing journey to get there pales next to what comes next when government rules and terrified mobs keep dividing, terrorizing, and testing the family in their pursuit of reunification and safety . Butler does a good job here, except for inconsistent accents, and viewers easily indulge in his attempted restraint and seemingly hopeless despair. (A quick chat about his weight is especially entertaining despite its seriousness …)
Baccarin is even more outstanding, however, as it has to walk around and suffer emotionally almost as much. One sequence sees Samaritans kidnapping young Nathan instead, and it’s a harrowing set piece in his horror and inevitable authenticity. Scott Glenn, Scott Poythress, Hope Davis, and David Denman Spot the other familiar faces in Greenland and they all stand out for filling in the movie’s snapshot about humanity – both the good and the bad. Some help, hinder others, and most are stuck in their own nightmare of not being able to do anything about the impending death of family members
For all subsequent scenes of destruction and violence in Greenland, one of its most powerful lands, after John was first notified that his family was chosen. The message crosses the television screen in a living room full of friends and neighbors, none of whom were chosen. There is an uncomfortable tension in the scene as the others move into a scene of devastating despair through disbelief, jealousy and anger. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and the movie keeps moving while the emotional sting still burns.
The film captures the chaos and selfish acts that would surely follow such events, but both Waugh and Sparling are just as warm in humanity. It’s an advancement for both of them as their previous tier – from Waugh’s Angel Has Fallen (2019) to Sparling’s ATMs (2012) – brings varying degrees of thrill over believing human interactions. While bigger films like Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) offer cartoonish nods to human dignity, Greenland is optimistic at the time of the credits.
The end of the world gimmicks here may be minor in terms of visual effects, but the message is clear both in the destruction we see and the human weakness that follows. We are only a stone away from extinction, but if there is hope of salvation, it depends on the choices we make along the way. So yeah, hit that comet if you get the chance and give Greenland a spin.