With Roland Emmerich seemingly out of favour, it has fallen to the mid-sized movie to prop up disaster movies in the Western world whilst the Eastern world lets the genre flourish. Greenland was much delayed, in part due to the pandemic and then gobbled up by Amazon Prime as an exclusive. Thankfully, it has been worth the wait. Greenland is one of the better Hollywood style movies I’ve seen in years and it is largely because it takes itself seriously and never stops moving.
The disasters faced
An end of the world comet, less room for lifeboats than the Titanic, meteorite strikes, traffic jams, plane crashes, everyone’s worst Karen and Darren in a shopping trip, insulin issues, a lack of phone signal and the best case for not wearing that festival band after the festival.
John Garity works as a construction engineer. He has also been a dirty stop out and had an affair which wife Allison is still coming to terms with. The pair are on the road to recovery but it is a slow, painful process. Their diabetic son Nathan just wants them back together and will spend most of the movie being tired through a lack of insulin. It is a good way to keep a potentially annoying child quiet. Thankfully, Nathan is one of the better disaster movie children and is largely self aware and capable.
News of the huge comet heading close to Earth is in the background of all the character setting. A small piece of the comet is due to hit the ocean during a family party with neighbours so everyone is gathered around the TV waiting for the impact that turns out to be much closer to home. This is where being an engineer comes in handy. The US Government have managed to secure a certain amount of places in an underground bunker. Where you may ask? Greenland. Noticing tons of planes, choppers and tanks on the move just an hour or so earlier, John gets a message that his family have been selected for shelter whilst food shopping with Nathan for their party. Upon arrival home to get Allison, pack and hot tail out of there, the message is displayed on their TV screens, in front of all their guests for all to see. Cue much anguish as the neighbours basically learn they are being left behind to likely die.
Greenland being a disaster movie, of course none of this is done until the last moment and so it is a race against time to reach their airport as society starts to decay quickly around them. Once they reach their destination, they realise they’ve left Nathan’s insulin in the car (thanks Nathan!). John goes back to get it but whilst away, Allison lets the staff know what is going on. This trusting judgement is an error. Anyone with a health condition is banned from evacuation and thus Nathan is thrown off the flight. John, not knowing ends up getting the insulin and getting onto the flight without them. As this happens, the crowds overwhelm the military and storm the runway for survival and in a shoot out, John has to escape the plane before it blows up.
Now separated, John is searching for Allison and Nathan – who leave a note on their car to say they are going to her dads place. Allison and Nathan need to find insulin fast though and so pop in for a late night shop in a raided drug store. Whilst fruitful, it is fraught with danger and there they hitch a ride with Judy and Ralph. The problem with these two is that they haven’t been selected for shelter and when Ralph spots their wristbands – his good Samaritan act changes sharpish. They decide to steal Allison’s bracelet, dump her on the road and take Nathan with them as an emotional ploy to get them on the next plane out to shelter.
John meanwhile is left roaming the streets trying to get his way to Allison’s dad, Dale. He teams up with some Spanish people with a truck and he learns that there are private planes taking off for Greenland as the plan for shelter has leaked out into the public. This group are making their way to an airfield to get onto a private plane and get to Greenland with literally minutes to spare. However, those pesky wristbands ruin this trip too as John is attacked by an angry mob at the back of the truck.
Surviving that, John at least has a plan. Now he needs to get to Dale’s place and hope that Allison (who needs to rescue Nathan first) is able to do the same. Then they can all get to the private plane fleet, hope there is still one left and get to Greenland in time. Sounds like they are cutting it fine. Indeed they will be. Will they make it before the big one hits?
Why is it worth watching?
Greenland is a mid-budget movie that takes itself seriously. It knows what it can and can’t do with its budget and works with it perfectly. Big effects happen rarely and when they do, they are seen through the TV or saved for very special moments. Yet that never makes Greenland boring. Our trio move forward constantly, running into issues, being separated and reuniting multiple times but with equal weight to their battles. John, Allison and even Nathan have to fight to stay alive and reunite their family unit. Even though the broken family renewed vibe is overdone in movies, at least this one feels realistic and grounded.
I feel Greenland fundamentally understands that a good end of the world movie needs good characters placed in tense situations. That can be the emotional wrench of your neighbour throwing their child at you begging you to save them. That can be crawling through a supermarket as gunmen kill anyone stealing their new loot. It can be a massive meteor fragment smashing into the sea and blowing your plane out of the sky. Anything can be turned into a tense and frightening situation given the right treatment. There are quips and throwaway comedic lines but largely, this is a tense journey that takes each situation seriously. A lot of it has been done before but Greenland adds its own modern day survival flavour to it. All too often with an Emmerich film for example, characters are expected to do cartoonish things. For the most part, Greenland sticks to small scale realism and scenes of mass panic. Often that is more terrifying than you’d think.
I also really appreciated the use of media throughout. Phones, TV, radio – they all play a big role in the movie. I also enjoyed the fact that everyone treats the end of the world differently. Some partied. Some chose to stay behind. Some showed their good nature. Others were dicks. It was nice to have a rounded view, albeit very briefly, from lots of different points as our trio cross others on their journey.
The comet, named Clarke, seen in its final form at the end but causes lots of beautiful sky effects throughout the movie. The smaller meteor showers are really well done too. There is plenty of fire, huge traffic jams, a really excellent flight sequence and of course seeing Clarke in all of its glory. What I think may shock everyone is that you don’t actually see the final impact. Keeping it off screen actually really works for tension but may make some sad as instead you’ll get a countdown on a screen showing a green blast wave approaching.
I’m going to be controversial out of the gate and say Allison is set up very unfairly at the start of the movie. You don’t learn about why she’s so annoyed with John until much later in and I thought she was being quite standoffish early on. Then when you realise John had slept with someone else, it reframed her in a different light and on second watching my view of her initially is completely different. In contrast, I was less than impressed with John instead at being impatient with Allison being cold. Nathan is largely there to split the duo up and be a focal point to reunite them again.
Outside of that characters come and go very quickly and so it is difficult to attach to any of them. Dale, Allison’s dad, is the most strangest addition. He veers from hatred boozy hillbilly to upstanding emotional citizen in the span of about four scenes. I wanted more of the neighbours left behind as they seemed like an emotional but good bunch of people – especially Debra trying to push her daughter onto our leaders. Ralph and Judy are an interesting couple as Judy does nothing to stop Ralph going full Falling Down on Allison. I’m not sure if she really wants to go along with their plan or if she is too scared to say anything. I was also curious about all the military involvement but that is because of the strong acting and I think it would have taken away from the ‘unknown’ element of the movie. A large plot driver early on is confusion so the viewer knowing what was happening before the cast would doesn’t help a movie.
At least we’re going down with the band still playing!Someone’s watched Titanic…
Three memorable moments
- Landing the plane in Greenland after getting caught in the meteorite blast.
- Allison and Nathan’s terrifying Supermarket Sweep.
- The initial strike and the immediate fall out of the selection process.
The obligatory weird moment
I am somewhat confused by the insulin issue. I thought if you had low blood sugar, it isn’t insulin you need, its a good meal. Insulin would lower your blood sugar further. Leave a comment to correct me if I’m wrong though. Similarly, if no medical conditions are accepted – that implies there is no insulin or medication so how Nathan will survive down in a bunker for a year I’ve no idea…
The drinking game
Every time Gerard Butler’s accent changes. This was nearly my weird moment but it is far more fun as a drinking game. Just exactly where has John been during his life? It is part American, part British, part mumblecore, part wandering traveller. Someone has been watching too much Schitt’s Creek!
I thoroughly enjoyed Greenland from start to finish. Keeping a tense and tight story on a small family as they fight for their chance to survive meant the movie moved at pace, stayed focused and serious. It is a great example of doing an awful lot of a smaller budget and making every detail count. You can’t have effects on their own. You have to have the tension and drama that goes with it. Hollywood – take note please.
Rating: 4 / 5 – Excellent
If you enjoyed Greenland, then you may like…
- Deep Impact – The end of the world movie that is character drama first, end of world second.
- Last Night – A low budget, indie end of the world movie from lots of different perspectives.
- 2012 – If you want the cartoon like version of Greenland, 2012 is better but not especially better.
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