By: Kevin Jordan
Wanna get away?
Greenland is the perfect movie for 2020. It includes needless violence; an idiotic treatment of science, government, and the military; and the end of the world. All I wanted was a big, dumb, loud, fun disaster movie to escape into for a couple of hours. Instead, I was reminded of how shitty this year has been, which was the opposite of fun.
(SPOILER ALERT – Yes, I am going to spoil this awful movie and you can blame it on 2020.)
The premise of Greenland is promising for mindless entertainment – a comet is going to hit the Earth. Cool, bring it on. John Garrity (Gerard Butler) is a structural engineer who we know is good at his job because we meet him standing on top of a building that is under construction, poring over blueprints. Only the best keep all of their blueprints outside rather than in an office; fits right alongside cool guys who walk away from explosions. After work, John goes home and stares at his front door lock with confusion and consternation. This is a classic symbol of a guy whose partner has thrown him out of the house, as well as a red flag that stupid human drama is going to be injected into a disaster flick. Fuck.
The next few minutes prove this correct. John’s marriage is on the rocks, but his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) needs his help throwing a house party to watch coverage of the recently discovered Comet Clarke as it passes by the Earth. Because all disaster movies include science that only anti-vaxxers and Fox News watchers believe, I was willing to ignore the inevitable stupidity for the sake of fun. You know, tidbits like “the comet’s tail is so long it can’t even be observed” or “when the comet gets closer to the sun and heats up, its trajectory can change.”
(Side note: Director Ric Roman Waugh said he tried to become his “own aficionado” on small space bodies, even talking to scientists at NASA. I am always skeptical of these claims, especially since Waugh is not also the writer, plus, says later in the interview that he wanted the movie to be more “a family’s point of view on how it would unfold.” Oh, I am even more skeptical after watching a movie that clearly does not give a shit about science.)
While at the grocery store to pick up some things for the party, John gets a Presidential Emergency message on his cell phone telling him to pack one bag and report to the nearest Air Force base with his wife and son. Noticing that nobody else in the store got the message, he is again confused and consternated. He hurries home, arriving just in time to see news anchors saying how scientists miscalculated the trajectory of the comet, but that it still does not pose a threat to the Earth. Then, his phone rings with the emergency message again, as does his television. All of his guests see it and ask why they aren’t getting the message, but he is as clueless as they are. For that matter, so am I, but for a different reason – how the hell did this idiotic concept get turned into a movie?
I was willing to let a lot of bullshit go under the assumption this movie would provide fun entertainment, but not that much bullshit. There is simply no way to swallow that a plan to save humanity includes not telling anybody they are part of the plan until the actual disaster is happening. And, we later learn that this plan was developed during the Cold War in case of a nuclear war (in which there are literally just minutes to get to safety). And (AND!), the people receiving the message are supposed to keep it secret, despite the phone blaring the noise for an emergency broadcast message at full volume and that same message being blasted on the televisions in every house of every recipient. I kept expecting someone to explain that John was somehow connected to the military or government, but nope. He was simply chosen because he was a structural engineer. Maybe the government, using a satellite, spotted John standing on top of the construction site with his blueprints and thought “he seems smart.”
The movie gets kind of better once John and family get on the road to make it to the Air Force base. They make it to the base with very little trouble, but are greeted by a very large crowd that has discovered the “secret” evacuation plan. Those that are chosen are being flown to a secret bunker (no points for guessing where the bunker is located). The soldiers let the Garritys in and give them wristbands to identify them as being chosen. As they are waiting to be loaded onto an airplane, the family realizes that their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) has forgotten his insulin injector in the car. John races back to the car and the soldiers just let him go. THEY. LET. HIM. GO. During an emergency evacuation while a mass of people are demanding to be let in!!
While John is gone, Allison tells one of the soldiers that her son is diabetic and the soldiers escort her and Nathan off the base since nobody with an ailment or disease was supposed to have been chosen. Given what we know of the plan so far, this kind of mistake seems like par for the course. Meanwhile, John races back to the hangar only to find his family missing. The soldiers tell him they must have already gotten onto one of the airplanes, so he gets on a airplane as well. There, another passenger notices the insulin kit in his hand and asks how he was chosen if he has diabetes. John realizes his family is not on the airplane and convinces the soldiers to lower the airplane’s ramp back down so he can leave. And they just do it. DURING. AN. EMERGENCY. EVACUATION!!
By this point in the movie, I was close to checked-out, but kept thinking “just let it go, things are going to start exploding everywhere and for the rest of the movie.” And I’ll be damned if the movie didn’t figuratively flip me the bird. To be fair, right after John gets off the airplane, every single airplane explodes in a chain reaction after a bullet lights some jet fuel on fire near a single airplane. We also get to see news footage of the city of Tampa being destroyed by a piece of the comet, as well as the family spending one scene dodging falling lava balls, but that is far too little of the remaining screen time. What did occur was filler and two scenes that absolutely tanked the movie for me.
After the airplane explosions, John finds a note back at the car saying Allison and Nathan are going to Allison’s dad’s home. The film bounces back and forth between them as they make their way hundreds of miles (from Atlanta to Tennessee). In the first bad scene, Allison and Nathan have hitched a ride with a couple heading north. Upon hearing why Allison and Nathan were rejected, the man decides that if he were Nathan’s father, he will be able to convince the soldiers to let them through, even without having a bracelet himself. He stops the car, violently removes Allison from the car, rips off her bracelet, and speeds away with Nathan, all of this happening with multiple people screaming, including the man’s wife. And this happens after Allison explains to him that the bracelets are checked against IDs. And it almost works because that is how fucking stupid the military is portrayed in this film.
The second scene is very similar, this time involving John. He has hitched a ride in the back of a large truck carrying several other people, one of whom explains to John that they are all going to an airfield where pilots are taking people to the not-so-secret-anymore bunker location. Another man notices John’s bracelet and non-American accent and demands John give him the bracelet because fuck immigrants. John explains about the IDs and, like that first scene, the man does not believe this will be a problem. They start fighting, everyone is thrown from the truck, and John and the man engage in a death match. Why not just give him the bracelet (ditto for Allison in the kidnapping scene)? By this point in time, John (and Allison, for that matter) knows he can’t get on the Air Force airplanes and is not actively trying to get to another base where the bracelet might be useful, so why risk dying over something that is useless? Where are all the fucking explosions already!!?
Well before the movie reached its foregone conclusion, I was done. It was not even the tiniest bit fun or entertaining, and watching scenes where people acted like the mask-protesting (and worse) assholes of 2020 just made the experience more awful. And that’s before we get to the part where John and Allison’s marital issues were completely irrelevant to anything and everything in the movie. If they had been the happiest couple on the planet, John still would have done everything exactly the same, but then we at least wouldn’t have had to endure the insipid “repair our marriage and bury the hatchet with my father-in-law” scene at Allison’s father’s house. There is nothing fun about that unless they are doing it while dodging chunks of falling comet.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and hope Roland Emmerich comes out of hiding with another fun disaster flick.