by Rob DiCristino
There are times when we want gourmet cuisine, and there are times when we want drive-thru from Wendy’s. Both are fulfilling in their own ways. Both satisfy their respective cravings. Both are best followed-up with a nice, long nap. The same goes for movies: There are times when we want inspirational, transgressive, captivating art, and there are times when we just want to dip french fries in a damn milkshake. Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland is a cinematic milkshake and fries, a straightforward disaster yarn that — while never particularly challenging or subversive — reminds us that even the coarsest, most elemental ingredients can still make for an incredibly satisfying meal.
It turns out, of course, that Clarke — revealed to be a series of small comet fragments traveling together — actually presents an extinction-level threat to the entire planet. John’s engineering skills have reserved him and his family spots in one of the US government’s classified bunkers, news that his neighbors take particularly badly when they learn they have not been given the same opportunity for survival. As the sky falls around them, the Garritys head for their designated pickup point, where they are issued credentials and await salvation. This is a disaster movie, though, so twists of fate soon scatter the three in separate locations, stripped of communications, supplies, and hope.
It’s here that Greenland really picks up steam. Making the most of its $35 million budget, the film forgoes gaudy spectacle in exchange for ground-level human drama. There’s a middle half-hour in which our heroes scramble desperately for the most incidental things — a second of cell phone service, a single insulin ration — and each hunt is contrasted nicely against the global catastrophe unfolding around them. Chris Sparling’s screenplay is rightly critical of institutions while preserving the essential decency of the individual human beings who make them up. In the end, the Garritys’ only chances lay with a select few sympathetic enough to help.
Fun as it is to be enthralled by Greenland’s twists and turns, they do give way to some threadbare connective tissue in the back half, moments in which welcome cameos from the likes of Scott Glenn and Holt McCallany feel short-changed, trampled under the narrative shoe leather necessary to get the family to the titular promised land. Time given to some of these smaller set pieces might have been better spent on more character progression, as John and Allison’s marriage subplot is resolved with a shrug and without much of a change in their dynamic. These are forgivable sins and par for the course in terms of genre tropes, but a bit more depth there would have been nice.