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Oh to be in GREENLAND at the end of the world

They call the comet “Clarke” in the new movie Greenland. How sweet. What a cute name for a comet so long that astronomists cannot even see its tail. As it hurtles closer and closer, the media quotes the scientific consensus that the space object will come so near Earth that anyone looking up will be able to see it in the sky, even in daylight – but it is harmless. Even as pieces start breaking off, speeding toward Earth, the world is reassured the shards will land harmlessly in the ocean.  Of course, were that to happen, there would be no drama and no movie.

That scenario of an event that begins innocuously enough only to threaten all life on Earth is not new. Even Lars Von Trier had a go at the scenario with Melancholia and managed to turn an action trope into an existential drama about a family facing the enormity of apocalypse. But Greenland stars Gerard Butler, he of the Fallen series, so it is an action movie – about a family… trying to catch a plane.

No joke. Clarke is about to cause an extinction level event. For structural engineer John Garrity (Butler), Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), their own shot at survival is to make their way to Greenland and a place in one of the sweet underground bunkers the US government has set up there. Originally among the chosen few selected for a spot, when through circumstance, their official ride falls through, it is a race through the night to catch a plane that John hears about through random, end-of-the-world gossip.

Greenland is a film that raises so many questions. Why Greenland? The US has bases all over the world and within the United States, so why are the only bunkers in that Danish territory? Why was Garrity picked, among all the many structural engineers in the US, as a designated survivor? Was there a secret lottery? And how often is the apocalypse-survival master list updated? Why would parents entrust their diabetic child to carry his own insulin in a backpack with his blanket and toys? Why is the media so calm while reporting their own impending deaths? Why did Morena Baccarin take a role that mostly consists of crying and near-hysteria? Is the middle of a pandemic the best time to release a movie about an event with dire, world-altering consequences?

Those and many more questions are bound to come up as one watches a film in which the consequences are high stakes, but the action needed to reach an ultimate conclusion is unconvincing. Director Ric Roman Waugh (Angel Has Fallen) handles the action scenes competently enough, but Chris Sparling’s script is weak.  He’s cobbled together a series of unfortunate events that add roadblocks to the Garrity family’s ultimate goal, too many not entirely believable. Also, since there is so little attention paid to character, beyond John is stoic and capable, Allison is emotional, and little Nathan is precocious, it is hard to care whether they make it to Greenland or not. Why this family? Why not that other family? The stakes are high, but Greenland is more of a video game—and not a very exciting one at that—than a movie. And the outcome is never in doubt. Everybody dies. Well, almost. –Pam Grady