One has to wonder what happened to Gerard Butler, the rising star of such films as P.S. I Love You, The Phantom of The Opera and 300. Butler has recently starred in such flops as Geostorm, Movie 43 and The Vanishing, while occasionally hitting gold with a voice role in How To Train Your Dragon and its sequels, and the actor currently has a whopping 11 films in various stages of development. If nothing else, he might be the hardest working star in the industry. In Greenland, Butler reunites with the director of the so-so action sequel Angel Has Fallen, Ric Roman Waugh, with mixed results.
Butler plays engineer John Garrity, whose marriage is on thin ice, but his diabetic son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) is arguably cute. When a comet heads towards Earth, John is one of the lucky few chosen to be flown to safety, presumably because he’s an engineer, thus useful enough. While communities and humanity start to crumble ahead of the disaster, John tries to get his family to safety before it’s too late.
At its very core, Greenland is a film about a family catching a flight. The smartest thing Waugh and writer Chris Sparling do is keep the plot human-focussed. This means two things; it is better than it has any right to be, but it also lacks the spectacle we seek from thrillers like this. This is a disaster film, almost completely void of said disaster, apart from smaller glimpses of the doom that awaits humanity. Instead, the focus here is often on how man turns against a man out of pure desperation and fear.
Part of this could be down to budgetary reasons; Greenland is an old-fashioned mid-budget thriller, but when it does venture out into bigger action set pieces, the CGI isn’t particularly believable or impressive. Some fire effects later on are particularly fake-looking and pretty abysmal.
Butler carries the film with enough charisma and natural charm, but it’s hard to root for his character; John seems bland and a carbon copy of every other everyman Butler has played in his career. Morena Baccarin as John’s wife Allison is appropriately warm, but her role is mostly to look scared and panicky, although Scott Glenn as Allison’s father is a welcome, if a very late, addition to the cast. David Denman and Hope Davis show up as a couple of seemingly nice guys, only to turn sinister at the blink of an eye. This small side plot, which is terrifyingly humane, provides Greenland with much needed nuance.
Greenland’s biggest failure is its overall sense of familiarity and lack of surprises. While the smaller scope works in the film’s favour, it also makes it hard to justify the bloated runtime of almost two hours. It is very clearly a 90 minute film stretched to its absolute limits with more and more convoluted plot developments before a predictable ending. Waugh plays everything safe, which makes a film about a global catastrophe and the fate of humanity feel utterly pointless and dull.
Still, Greenland is likely to keep you entertained and it is a very competently made thriller. Dana Gonzales’ cinematography is appropriately chaotic and David Buckley’s score is surprisingly effective and affecting when it needs to be. There is a lot to like, but Waugh’s film is just too uneven and tonally all over the place to elevate the clunky script.
Greenland is available on demand in the US from December 18.