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One of the genuine guilty pleasures of last year’s lockdown releases was Skyfire, a spectacularly silly Chinese disaster movie in which Jason Isaacs builds a hotel on the side of a volcano and then tries to reassure everyone (in a South African accent) that “we’re all going to be fine!” After watching Gerard Butler get into a fistfight with the weather in Geostorm, I had similar expectations of this end-of-the-world action film about an impending meteor strike. But though originally announced with Chris Evans as star and Neill Blomkamp of District 9 as director, Greenland turns out to be the perfect vehicle for Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh, reuniting after Angel Has Fallen for a sharply written and grippingly executed apocalypse pic that, like 2008’s breakout hit Cloverfield, punches well above its mid-budget weight.
Butler is John Garrity, a structural engineer in Atlanta attempting to rebuild his broken marriage to estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin). The couple’s diabetic young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), is thrilled by news of a comet due to make “the closest flyby in history”. But when John receives a presidential alert announcing that his family have been chosen for “shelter”, it becomes clear that bits of the comet are on course for Earth. Next thing, “the sky is on fire”, Tampa is toast, and the Garrity clan are heading for a military airfield to be transported to bunkers near the north pole.
While fans of Butler’s action movies may be expecting him to simply punch the asteroid out of the sky, Greenland instead casts him as just another ordinary Joe caught up in the same chaos as everyone else. “That didn’t take long,” says John sardonically about the looters he spies from the wheel of his car, before promptly getting stuck in the kind of traffic jam commuters encounter every day. When he and Allison are separated after a mix-up with Nathan’s meds, failing phone signals and a visit to the chemist become panic-inducing matters of life and death, thanks to a whip-sharp script by Buried writer Chris Sparling. Even Butler’s inevitable scraps have the anxious atmosphere of a nasty bar-room brawl (plaudits to cinematographer Dana Gonzales), while Allison’s hitchhiked lift with nice couple Ralph and Judy turns a rear-view mirror into a window on to the darkness of the “civilised” soul.
The threat of destruction falling from the heavens is a disaster movie staple dating back to the 1916 Danish silent Verdens Undergang, about a passing comet wreaking earthly havoc. Since then, we’ve had everything from Abel Gance’s troubled 1931 French sci-fi thriller La fin du monde, in which rioters and revellers await doomsday, to 1979’s star-studded Meteor, about cold war enemies working together to fend off an approaching threat.
Yet for all its fiery action elements (exploding planes, torched cities etc), Greenland arguably has more in common with the character-driven traits of Lorene Scafaria’s end-of-days romcom Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (or even Lars von Trier’s Melancholia?) than with the 1998 double-whammy of Deep Impact and Armageddon, the latter featuring Bruce Willis as a deep-sea digger enlisted to ‘“drill some holes” in space.
Following a career-best turn in Kristoffer Nyholm’s sorely underrated psychological thriller The Vanishing (AKA Keepers), Butler sinks his oft-gritted teeth into a role in which strength and weakness are intertwined like the duelling Scottish-American strains of his accent. Strong support from the likes of Scott Glenn and Hope Davis adds dramatic weight, while Gabriel Fleming’s sharp editing and David Buckley’s propulsive score pluck alternately at the heart strings and the adrenal glands. The result is a first-rate B-picture, and a timely reminder of the delights of well-crafted popcorn thrills.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Greenland review – comet disaster movie with a surprisingly deep impact | Action and adventure films