Whether he’s saving the president (again and again in the Has Fallen series) or leading a shirtless Spartan army, Gerald Butler has established himself as a premier action star. He may not be a critical darling, but Butler’s sturdy gravitas deserves praise for carrying even the most middling of screenplays. His latest B-movie vehicle Greenland attempts to relish in the destruction of our planet, a set-up that could be oddly distasteful given the current times. Taking away the lousy timing, this middling disaster film rarely embraces the strengths of its dopey subgenre.
Greenland follows John Garrity (Butler), a family man who embarks on a perilous journey to find sanctuary when a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth. As the countdown to the global apocalypse approaches zero, the Garrity’s incredible trek culminates in a desperate and last-minute flight to a possible safe haven.
No one plays a gruff, straight-laced everyman like Butler, but his compelling presence can only take this emotionally vacant thrill ride so far. Oddly enough, Greenland attempts to establish its own voice among its bombastic peers. Director Ric Roman Waugh opts away from grandiose setpieces to convey a murky realism, a sensibility that has served him well with prison dramas like Snitch and Felon. Waugh’s shake-ridden framing lacks the creative edge to compensate for the cheap visual veneer, while his hyper-realistic presentation makes a clunky accomplice for the genre sensibility. I’ve enjoyed Waugh’s previous work, but disaster movies’ inherent cheesiness don’t mesh with his filmmaking identity.
Chris Sparling’s sparse screenplay double downs on the edgy identity. Vignettes of semi-realistic world-ending scenarios attempt to place audiences in the boots of our everyman protagonists. In a cerebral apocalyptic offering like Contagion, frames like these can serve as a stark reflection of our fragile humanity, ruminating on how people are pushed in times of fear and vulnerability. Here, Sparling’s greeting card-level of depth only speaks contrived motifs about our desire to put ourselves over others in times of need.
Greenland tosses out the kitchen sink of B-movie trappings to form a shallow connection with audiences. The opening frames establish a soap-opera level of melodrama that permeates throughout every clunky interaction, with the Garrity’s cliche-ridden origins being unengaging to invest in (this movie rips the maudlin divorce subplot right from Roland Emmerich’s 2012). Butler and Morena Baccarin hold their own with the material, but the vanilla family figures never evolve past vapid cardboard cutouts. Once the characters get on the road, they run past a myriad of desolate survivalist-types to reach their salvation. Whether they are kind-hearted or cruel, they all just become road bumps for John’s macho-man mission to save his family.
By meshing the borrowed tropes of disaster movies with an inauthentic grit, Greenland doesn’t satisfy any of its audience’s desires. Even bloated misfires like 2012 and Geostorm found ways to embrace the innate appeal of their sandbox destruction. Everything in Greenland is presented with a dour self-seriousness that becomes tiresome to endure, as it’s not like the material has anything of substance to say. Once the action finally starts to fly in the third act (Butler outdrives a wave of falling asteroids), I had lost interest as I awaited the inevitably saccharine conclusion.
While admittedly competent, Greenland never achieves much of note with its well-trudged premise. As a fan of Butler and Waugh’s track record, I hope the duo return to their well-established action roots.
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