Just our luck. We finally get a decent disaster movie, and it arrives in the middle of a pandemic.
Some people saw it, but most theaters were closed, so the vast majority of us missed the apocalyptic effects, high tension and narrow escapes of “Greenland.” At least now it’s coming to home video.
Gerard Butler, a sturdy presence in larger-than-life spectacles, anchors a good cast in what one has to say is a most topical and grimly plausible “end times” thriller. He plays an Atlanta-based structural engineer who must save life, limb and family when Comet Clarke comes calling.
But there’s trouble at home, problems in his marriage to Allie (Morena Baccarin, “Deadpool’s” better half). Seven year-old Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) is concerned, but perhaps more worried about this fragment-filled comet that’s heading for Earth.
When the emergency alert message comes in that John, Allie and Nathan “have been selected,” ordering them to Robbins AFB in Warner-Robbins, the background noise the adults haven’t been locking in on hits home. Things are about to get “real.”
The film is about their quest to get there, or find alternative transport to Greenland, where the government set up a survival bunker after watching “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” and we first heard the phrase “planet killer.”
“Angel Has Fallen” director Ric Roman Waugh, who took over this STX production when Neill Blomkamp backed out, keeps “Greenland” in motion and the script (by Chris Sparling, who “Buried” Ryan Reynolds) keeps our characters in peril.
If it’s the death raining from the skies, it’s the Darwinian response Americans expect when the chips are down. Separate the family to increase the number of obstacles — the xenophobic, the conspiracy-minded — with everybody’s inner-goon coming out with doom hanging over them.
Those “we were selected” wristbands create a short term class war. Tearful pleas from neighbors, chaos at the various departure points and periodic rains of fire all stand in their way.
The level of organization, the duty-bound military sticking to their jobs, the NASA briefings (heard, not seen), all create a texture in Waugh’s tapestry of gloom and doom.
The most chilling moment comes early as John and Nathan turn their eyes to see what everybody is gawking at skyward. It’s an air armada, the first signs of an evacuation that nobody has been told about…yet. It reminded me of that scene in “The Day After” when a crowd at a Lawrence, Kansas football game stares at missiles heading skyward. A real “Uh oh” moment.
The best movies in this genre feed us dread, dangle hope and hit us with pathos. Scott Glenn provides that as Allie’s aged father, an old man on the farm with The End in sight.
Pictures like this have their formula and are careful to leave no trope unturned. Why? Because the formula works and we know that. We wait for those tropes, like comfort food. “Earthquake” to “2012,” “Deep Impact” to “The Wave,” from bloated and dumb to plausible and smart, disaster filmmakers defy our expectations and cravings at their own peril.
“Greenland” doesn’t often surprise, but it never disappoints.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of disaster action, some violence, bloody images and brief strong language
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, Andrew Bachelor and Hope Davis
Credits: Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, script by Chris Sparling. An STX film, a Universal Home Video release.
Running time: 1:59