GREENLAND is what happens when the most sheltered people try to write a disaster film. It’s a story about insufferable one-percenters surviving at the cost of those less fortunate than them, released into a global pandemic where the white upper class is constantly outraged when they have to make minor adjustments to their lavish lifestyles. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so insufferably dull.
Gerard Butler plays a wealthy architect whose marriage is on the fritz. His wife (Morena Baccarin) is estranged from him, and their precocious child is left in the middle with his comically convenient diabetes. They have names, which are repeated often in the film, but I kept referring to them in my notes as Karen and Kevin, so that’s who they’ll be.
Karen and Kevin live an extremely comfortable life. They have a massive house in a rich cul-de-sac, two kitted out cars, and technology for days. Their neighbors look like they’ve leapt from the pages of catalogs that only get distributed to certain postcodes. If it wasn’t for that pesky marital trouble, everything would be perfect.
Except for the giant comet that’s passing by the earth which will wipe out all life on the planet in about 48 hours.
Against all odds Karen and Kevin are selected for evacuation, a handy McGuffin that requires them to head for the nearest airport to be ushered to Greenland where the only suitable underground silos are located to shelter human life. Because America, Hawaii, or any of the bases around the world don’t have those.
So Karen and Kevin pack their things and head for the airport. On the way they observe frightened people of lower economic status loot things in fear. “Well that didn’t take long.” Kevin scoffs. These are good people. They don’t do stuff like that.
But tragedy strikes at the airport! Karen and Kevin are denied passage because their child has diabetes. No pre-existing conditions, the eugenicists say. There’s no indication why any of that makes sense, considering they’re already trying to evacuate enough people to restart the population after a global extinction event, but let’s go with it anyway.
Thus begin the heroics. Karen, with all her might, demands to see the military’s manager. I’m not making this up. She yells and wails until she’s brought to the person in charge. At which point Karen demands that her child, her young child, is an excuse enough that all rules should be bent for her. No such luck. The cruel people refuse her entrance, and they’re sent on their way.
At this point Kevin, in all his impotent rage, promises Karen that he’ll get them to Greenland one way or the other. After all, they have tickets.
Every single major obstacle in this film has to do with either Karen or Kevin demanding special treatment, and then throwing a fit until they get it. During the apocalypse, they proceed to do the following multiple times:
Cutting in line. Using their child as a bargaining chip. Using their privilege to get ahead. Complaining about how hard they have it.
In one of the most horrifyingly dumb scenes, Karen and Kevin hold the lives of countless families in jeopardy as they demand to be seated on a plane that is already too full. It’s presented as a heroic moment of the family coming together, but for anyone who isn’t a sociopath it just feels like the villains winning at the cost of others.
What’s worse is that the film pretends like these actions aren’t just justified, they’re celebrated. Every act of whining, demanding, and screaming gets not just results – but over the top assurances that their demands are heard and will be catered to in every way.
Talking about the entire third act would be a spoiler, and I won’t do that in case someone wants to see this mess, but let’s just say that there’s a boomer fantasy involved that will make any millennial laugh heartily by the end.
Most infuriatingly the film minimizes the destruction of the planet as something utterly trivial in the face of Karen and Kevin becoming a family again. Kevin has cheated on Karen, and that makes both of them sad. Luckily for Kevin, the end of the world is the best time to prove yourself as a real man again, allowing for Karen to admit that in the end the cheating can also be blamed on her. Because that makes sense.
Even worse, the film arrives in the middle of one of the worst pandemics in modern history, where much of the world will never be the same again. It’s released into a time where global warming will most assuredly decimate entire regions of the planet, causing hundreds of millions of people to die or become homeless.
The film knows this; every once in a while news reports can be glimpsed in the background showing how the destruction is spreading. A weak finale tries to tie the fate of the planet into a neat little ribbon, but since our focus has been squarely on the weak shoulders of boomers, nothing really matters anymore in the end.
And because the film knows this, it means that its decision to cast those in power and privilege as the leads, sneering at the fates of the less fortunate, is intentional. It’s intentional that a scene depicting terror in the hearts of our leads expressly features a minority gang blindly shooting elderly people in a pharmacy. It means that the film intentionally features selfish acts as praiseworthy means of survival, as long as it serves the American family unit.
If this film were on the Titanic, it would be kicking others off the lifeboat because there’s not enough room to be comfortable.