I should have known that 2020 was going to be an upside down year when it started with this critic giving a Guy Ritchie film (The Gentleman) a five star review. Sci-fi caught up with us fast in a time of plague, meaning that, barely noticed amongst many casualties, the latest Gerry Butler actioneer, Greenland, by-passes cinemas in most territories and heads straight to streaming, launching on Amazon Prime this weekend. Like most above-the-title stars, Butler has had plenty of misses as well as hits, but his career took a surprise upturn with the far-better-than expected third instalment of his … Olympus/London/Angel Has Fallen franchise, which united him with director Ric Roman Waugh. Waugh will direct the forth instalment of that franchise too, but first re-teams with Butler for a disaster movie that, while traditional in outlook, happens to predict some of the real-life consequences of the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak.
Unlike many genre films, Greenland doesn’t switch worldviews much; no anxious presidents, good-hearted strippers or lost dogs here. Instead we double down on hunky Scottish structural engineer John Garrity (Butler) and his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), who are going through a rocky patch in their marriage caused by infidelity, but manage to hold things together to protect their son when fireballs start falling out of the sky across Florida and Georgia. The family are invited to a Noah’s Ark retreat in Greenland, but getting there proves to be tough, with the couple separated and their insulin-needing son kidnapped by opportunistic stragglers…
Those partaking of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK will appreciate details like the QR code sent to the phones of the chosen few, while others look on enviously. US audiences will recognise the ‘presidential alert’ system used here; Greenland’s makers probably wouldn’t guess just how accurate some of their speculations would be. It’s also remarkably prescient how many of the US population are portrayed as incredulous or in denial about the imminent danger; while shops have their shelves denuded, others grab a beer and party on, unwilling to concede that their lack of fight endangers them all. Disaster movies are generally cheese-fests, but Greenland seems more sober-minded than anticipated, and manages to create more involvement than most genre entries. These big-scale films often fizzle in the grip of script contrivance, but Greenland keeps its eyes firmly on the offshore destination, and the viewer finds themselves braced for the impact of bad scenes that never arrive.
Support including Scott Glenn and Hope Davis indicate a higher standard of quality than most, and Butler also reins in his tough-guy act to create something more thoughtful; Garrity is a stoic Scot for sure, even if his in-laws unwisely mock his kilt, but he’s also hemmed in by sketchy phone-coverage, heavy traffic, long queues and other recognisable frustrations that we can all empathise with. Butler prevails, as we’d hope, and somehow makes Greenland a notably on-the-money film that reflects the current drama we’re living though in a positive way. This is an effective pulpy, straight-up slice of Armageddon anxiety circa 2021, and should provide a shot of soothing Hollywood balm to help us get through our current anxieties.