This year I saw plenty of memes and bumper stickers bearing the words “Sweet Meteor of Death 2020,” an understandable sentiment given every awful thing that’s happened this year. But Greenland shows how awful that would be in every possible way, even though the meteor is actually a comet in this case.
Gerard Butler plays John, yet another gruff family man, a structural engineer estranged from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), but still trying to be there for his diabetic son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). When the comet that was supposed to create only some impressive images is revealed to be a massive “planet killer,” it’s every man for himself. Initially, John and his family are chosen for a top secret military relocation program, but they’re separated in the chaos after some understandably pissed off folks who weren’t chosen try to force their way onto a plane. Thus begins two agonizing trips to Lexington, where they hope to hunker down at the farm Allison grew up on.
David Denman (Roy from The Office) is tremendously miscast as Ralph, a man who offers a ride to Allison and Nathan but has some nefarious ideas about how to turn the situation to his advantage. Hope Davis is absolutely wasted as his reluctant wife Judy. Every person the family meets is only there to put them in peril or heroically sacrifice themselves to keep the mission going. Even though Waugh captures some appropriately hopeless moments, there’s an air of inevitability that everything will be OK for this family, even if billions of people die.
It’s only through the sheer momentum of the film and the constant feeling of “What would I do in this situation?” that keeps it compelling. The movie wants to be on the same scale as War of the Worlds, World War Z or Roland Emmerich’s movies, but at a fraction of the budget. That works some of the time, but a lot of the CGI and large-scale destruction is distractingly bad. Only a roadside storm of flames works, even though it’s preceded by a hilariously specific automated “molten debris” warning on the radio.
Greenland would have been even more immersive and engaging on a big screen, but alas a PVOD release is all we’ll get in 2020. As bad as it’s been this year, the movie could have been worse.