I thought I knew plot twists. I’ve seen The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects and every Planet of the Apes movie ever made, including that terrible one by Tim Burton. But this is a new wrinkle – a casting plot twist.
When I heard that Gerard Butler was starring in a movie in which Earth (and his family!) is threatened by a rogue comet, I thought I knew what I was getting into. After all, he’s been there before, in the likes of 2017’s cornball climate catastrophe film Geostorm. Butler’s also been busy saving world leaders, most recently in 2019’s Angel Has Fallen, directed by Ric Roman Waugh.
Waugh is back in the chair for Greenland, which stars Butler as John Garrity, a structural engineer going through a bad patch with wife Allison (Morena Baccarin). With a comet named Clarke (presumably after Arthur C.) about to make the closest flyby in history, everyone including the couple’s son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) is staring at the sky, excited and awestruck.
Trouble is, the governments of the world fudged the facts. Yes, Clarke is technically going to come closer to Earth than any comet in 65 million years, by virtue of the fact that it’s going to hit us, in what 1998’s Deep Impact taught me is an E.L.E., or extinction-level event.
Imminent devastation tends to bring out the worst in some people
Butler doesn’t have to swing into family-saving action immediately because the government does it for him – he’s been semi-randomly selected to move to a protected bunker in a classified location. (I briefly wondered if maybe his Mike Banning secret service character from Angel Has Fallen had pulled some strings.)
At this point the movie becomes a race for the Garrity family to make it to safety before the main comet fragment strikes the Earth. It’s not easy, because a lot of smaller fragments are raining down, some big enough to take out entire cities, others that make the term “meteor shower” into an actual weather event, like a hailstorm, only more on fire.
Also, imminent devastation tends to bring out the worst in some people. Take the scene in which David Denman and Hope Davis kidnap Nathan in hopes of lying their way into the secret bunker.
Butler, weirdly, doesn’t Butler his way out of this mess. There are no quips, and the violence is realistic rather than cartoonish. There’s a point where our hero kills a man who’s trying to steal his pass to safety, and damned if he doesn’t spend the rest of the movie looking traumatized by what he’s done.
All of which is to say that, while this isn’t a great movie, it’s also not the dreadful one you might expect from the star of 2018’s Den of Thieves or Hunter Killer, a derivative heist movie and submarine thriller, respectively.
But it’s pitched a little too shrilly, with dramatic moments that don’t quite land. There’s implied history between Butler’s character and his father-in-law (Scott Glenn) for instance, but I’m guessing it was cut. Greenland is a near miss – great when you’re talking about comets, not so much with movies about them.
Greenland is available Feb. 5 on Amazon Prime.
2 stars out of 5