2020, PG-13, 119 min. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Starring Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis, King Bach, Holt McCallany.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Dec. 18, 2020

It took Ric Roman Waugh exactly one movie to bring the Olympus Has Fallen franchise back down to Earth. In Angel Has Fallen, the first outing between the director and franchise star Butler, the two men turned a borderline superhero into a three-dimensional – or at least a two-and-a-half dimensional – human being. It should come as no surprise that Greenland, the latest collaboration between the two, continues their preference for characters above spectacle. It may not always hold together, but let’s face it: Plenty of Hollywood filmmakers have done a lot worse with more.

John (Butler) and Allison (Baccarin) Garrity are in a vulnerable place. After weathering an unspoken breach of trust, the couple is doing their best to reconcile for the sake of their son (Floyd). And with so much pressure on their marriage, the two barely notice the news updates about Clarke, a newly discovered comet from another solar system. Soon, though, John receives a priority message from the United States government ordering him and his family to an underground bunker. It isn’t long before the entire world learns the truth: a planet-killing comet strike is headed our way, and the Garritys have less than 48 hours to make it to their shelter.

In its early minutes – where death is foreshadowed through the steady chatter of cable news coverage – the film echoes the fatalism of These Final Hours, Zak Hilditch’s standout 2013 apocalypse feature. Like that film, Greenland starts as a meditation on regret and impending disaster. There is genuine horror in watching Garrity interact with his neighbors for the last time, with all parties knowing what the future holds for those he leaves behind. Greenland’s slow march toward the first comet strike is harrowing, and it furthers Butler’s late-career turn as action’s most despondent leading man.

Only modest disaster movies can justify sustained character work over spectacle, though, and Waugh and company occupy a space where explosions are expected. What Greenland manages to do with its budget is admirable; few disaster movies are made on a budget of $100 million these days, let alone a third of that price tag. But Waugh is compelled to deliver action sequences on par with bigger movies, and here is where Greenland stumbles. Much of the VFX exists to tick a box, offering audiences the kind of pyrotechnics found in other Butler films. The result is a film that often leans into its character beats and away from its set pieces, a strange inversion of B-movie expectations.

There are still plenty of moments to enjoy amidst the wreckage of the, well, wreckage. Waugh smartly chooses to split Greenland between Butler and Baccarin, affording the latter – too often underused in franchises big and small – an opportunity to carry her weight. And Waugh’s overt respect for servicemen and women reaches its zenith here. The film is populated with first responders and military personnel who work to ensure humanity’s safety, even knowing – and in a few cases, openly acknowledging – that the government is leaving them behind to certain death. There’s a thread of quiet competence present in Greenland’s narrative that acts as a welcome departure from violent anarchy.

And this is, of course, the signature styling of Waugh and Butler: quiet competence. Greenland might be a B-movie at heart, but in keeping at least one toe on the ground at all times, the filmmakers craft something that punches well above its weight class. Here’s to one of the more consistently surprising director/actor relationships of our era.

Greenland is available on VOD from Dec. 18. Read our interview with director Ric Roman Waugh here.

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Greenland, Ric Roman Waugh, Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis, King Bach, Holt McCallany

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