Whenever a movie doesn't have the means that most have in the genre it's working in, you can either expect something watered down and not impressive, or there's certain grounded aesthetic which serves simpler stories. When it comes to Greenland, directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling, we opt out of a huge VFX spectacle and insane world building of most disaster films to instead set the sights on one family's story through that disaster. That core family is dad John (Gerard Butler), mom Allison (Morena Baccarin) and their 7-year-old son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) who get an presidential alert to evacuate to safety after large pieces of a comet are expected to hit the Earth. Their neighbouring families don't get this message and Nathan's diabetes also throws a curveball to the ''selection'' which would fly them to bunkers in Greenland. Focusing on this family is the thing that makes the movie so surprising and eventually captivating, in the process you don't need to know all the details about the disaster because you're on the ground with them just trying to survive.
Greenland gets to a thriving start with its setup and how well it's executed in the first 15 minutes. There's smart choice after another and another, whether that is experiencing the first disastrous strike at John's eye level in the front yard of their house, not explaining the evacuation until the family figures it out or making Nathan feel like an actual 7-year-old and not relying on the ''kid does bad, things get bad'' trope of these kinds of films. Tension keeps just growing and growing, the air and skies get more orange from the destruction and humans are seen panicking just like they would during a disaster. Moments where the family members get separated are all well timed with thought-out reasons and that does reflect their overall dynamic which is that they are still close despite the parents' marital problems (those aren't thankfully explored through exposition in the beginning but with character-introducing scenes).
That separation and survivor's panic is bolstered by the actors, being either the main three or supporting pieces who pop in and out of the story. Baccarin does a lot of heavy lifting emotionally, Butler takes hold on the action and Waugh gets a fine performance by the young Floyd in scenes where Nathan is feeling distress and straight-up fear. Scott Glenn turns in as Allison's father briefly but so effectively that you'll even wonder his destiny at the end. Much of the resolution that Greenland ends up at isn't terrible per se but it is noticeably weaker than the setup and doom in the first half. The ending especially felt too safe and there is some repetition when it comes to the family trying to get back together. Maybe that is where the budget reserved for VFX (which are still very solid by the way) took away the opportunity for wilder twists and turns. Good thing is that we have characters to care about beyond their fates, unlike in other movies dealing with disasters where people are just crushed to concrete.
Smileys: Atmosphere, acting, premise
Frowneys: Some issues with story and ending
Maybe we shouldn't hitchhike even if there's a comet incoming? Just a thought.