Review: 'Greenland' focuses on human side of a global disaster

Gerard Butler stars as a husband and father trying to get his family to safety after a comet wipes out most of humanity

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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In "Greenland," a comet from outer space crashes to Earth causing an extinction level event, so it's not quite the holiday pick-me-up as, say, "Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special." 

The best parts of this action epic are the ways in which it scales down and brings its global terror home; in a way, "Greenland" is a domestic drama in the guise of a disaster movie. It begins with a bang, but a flabby midsection and a few too many unlikely coincidences dull its overall impact. 

Roger Dale Floyd and Gerard Butler in "Greenland."

Gerard Butler stars as John Garrity, a structural engineer (which is to say, he builds skyscrapers) living in Atlanta. He's back with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), from whom he was recently estranged, and their young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), who is diabetic. 

There's chatter on the news about a comet, which has been given the friendly name of Clarke, which is headed to Earth; at first it's only background noise, just like COVID-19 began as a thing you heard about on the news when you were only half-paying attention. But soon it's the only thing anyone is talking about as its severity becomes apparent, and it wipes out a huge swath of Florida on impact. 

"Greenland" is nothing less than riveting in its early framing of a catastrophe. John receives a phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informing him that he and his family have been chosen for shelter; the alert comes to him in the form of a loud, grating interruption on his phone (think Amber Alerts) and a stern, computerized voice delivering him the news. That feels real. As does the utter chaos at the air base where he's been instructed to report; there are thousands of people screaming and flailing trying to get in, but only a few have been granted access. That feels too real.    

Ah but nothing is as easy as a fast pass to freedom. John needs to run back to the car because he forgot his son's insulin and from there the family members are separated, and "Greenland" becomes about their quest to improbably meet back up, a few days and several states later. Director Ric Roman Waugh (he previously teamed with Butler on "Angel Has Fallen") loses his early momentum and struggles to get it back, although his focus on the human side of devastation resonates. (There's a hilarious bit where John lies about his weight to try to board a plane and is called out for shaving a good 25 pounds; the world's population has been wiped out and this guy's still lying about his weight.) 

"Greenland" arrives at a time when we've been met with a different kind of disaster, and its presentation of events is all too plausible. But in a way that early realism works against it, because once it turns to fantasy, it becomes just another movie. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Greenland'

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for intense sequences of disaster action, some violence, bloody images and brief strong language 

Running time: 120 minutes

Available On Demand

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