Greenland is what happens when the most sheltered people imaginable write a disaster film.
It’s a one-percenter survival fantasy, released into a global pandemic where the white upper class is outraged that they have to make minor adjustments to their lavish lifestyles. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so insufferably dull.
Gerard Butler plays a wealthy architect whose marriage is on the fritz. His wife, played by Morena Baccarin, is estranged from him, and their precocious child is 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’ are models from pages of catalogs that only get distributed to certain postcodes. If it weren’t for those pesky marital troubles, everything would be perfect.
Except for that giant comet passing by the earth, which will wipe out all life on the planet in 48 hours.
Against all odds, Karen and Kevin are chosen for evacuation. Which means heading to the nearest airport for transportation to Greenland. Apparently, it’s the only location suitable for underground silos to shelter human life. Because America, Hawaii, or any of the bases around the world are no good.
Abandoning their neighbors, Karen and Kevin set off for safety. On the way, they observe frightened people of lower economic status loot stores in fear. “Well, that didn’t take long.” Kevin scoffs. They, after all, are good people. They don’t do stuff like that.
But tragedy strikes! Karen and Kevin lose their passage because their son has diabetes. No pre-existing conditions, the eugenicists say. There’s no indication why that makes sense, considering they’re 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. She yells and wails until they bring her to the person in charge. Without irony, Karen demands that her young child is excuse enough to bend all rules for her. No such luck. It’s the first sign that we’re supposed to emphasize with these people. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.
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.
If you’re counting, every obstacle in Greenland resolves itself through the action of complaining. Luckily, Karen and Kevin hold Olympic gold metals in entitlement. During the apocalypse, they cut in line, use their child as a bargaining chip, and buy their safety over others. All the while they complain about how hard they have it.
In one of the most insipid scenes, Karen and Kevin hold the lives of countless others in jeopardy. A plane filled with families is about to take off. Any more weight puts everyone on board in danger. Karen and Kevin prevent them from taxiing down the runway. Each wasted moment is one step closer to death. Desperate, the pilot caves in. As they fly off, we see others arrive on the runway moments too late. Kevin sighs in relief. At least they got away before those people ruined it for them.
What’s worse is the film pretends like these actions aren’t just justified, but worth celebrating. Every act of whining, demanding, and screaming leads to success. The maudling music and cinematography underline how right our heroes are. There’s potential for a brilliant satire, which the film misses completely.
Talking about the entire third act would be a spoiler. Suffice to say it involves a boomer fantasy so over-the-top it will make any millennial bowl over in hysterics.
Most infuriatingly, the film minimizes the apocalypse in the face of Karen and Kevin’s feelings. Kevin has cheated on Karen, and that makes them sad. Luckily for Kevin, the end of the world is the best time to prove yourself as a real man again. This allows Karen to admit that in the end, the cheating is also her fault. Because that makes sense.
Greenland premieres in the middle of one of the worst pandemics in modern history. At a time when climate change is decimating entire regions of the planet, causing hundreds of millions of people to die or go homeless. It looks at all of that and asks us to consider how hard wealthy Americans have it.
A weak finale tries to tie all this together in a neat little ribbon. But since our focus is squarely on the frail shoulders of boomers, nothing really matters. Best to shut it all down.
What’s more, it’s painfully white-upper-class-centric. It frames other social classes as a threat. People who are dangerous to the survival of those truly worthy of it. And it does so without an inkling of understanding what it’s saying.
Nowhere is that as evident as in an early scene, where Kevin stops at a pharmacy. By then, the end is already certain. Humanity is doomed. People flee in terror. He wanders in to buy medicine, only to find looters emptying shelves. They are all minority gangs blindly shooting at older people. It’s a depiction of the poor as violent animals. Kevin scowls at them. His looting is justified, theirs is dangerous.
Greenland paints selfish acts as praiseworthy means of survival. But only as long as it serves the survival of the American family unit of certain skin color and economic status.
If this film were on the Titanic, it would be kicking others off the lifeboat because there’s not enough room to be comfortable.