This review contains spoilers.
Movies like Greenland have certain beats they have to hit.
Start with a normal life that is revealed to already be imperfect or broken in some way, usually between two lovers. Underestimate a coming threat. Rapid realization that things are about to get dangerous fast, showing lots of fear and uncertainty. Take action to survive. Show the world falling a part and have otherwise “normal” seeming people act in ways that under normal circumstances are completely immoral. Let the audience question what happens to morality under these new conditions. Race to survival through trial and tribulation. Sometimes you live, sometimes you die, but you always resolve that initial conflict shown from the Before Times.
Did I just describe Greenland? Yes, and plenty of other films/stories like it. But just because there is a formula, it doesn’t mean the formula is bad. Greenland executes this race to survival very well. I felt the rush of adrenaline and anxiety throughout this movie. I felt genuine fear. I felt genuinely uncertain if they would make it.
There’s real horror when a message flashes on the television at a birthday party that makes it clear that only one family in this suburban neighborhood was being chosen to evacuate. I was already anxious as Gerard Butler didn’t immediately and quietly throw his family in the car when he got home from the grocery store where he received his first warning. And I felt the crushing claustrophobia of the crowds at the military air base trying to squeeze in to be allowed on the planes leaving for Greenland. I was nearly crushed by the child abduction and felt genuine relief when our main family is united at grandpa’s farm house.
If there’s anything that detracts from this movie, I think it’s the happy ending. I’m not sure there was any need for the shots of destruction around the Earth. I don’t think there was a need for showing the bunker doors opening and the return of wildlife. In fact, I think the movie plays fast and loose with the audience only once, and that’s when it shows the “flashes”, telegraphed repeatedly as what you see before dying, prior to the films unnecessary coda. This should have been a signal they did not survive. There’s no reason not to end the movie there. I don’t think Greenland is ruined by its happy ending, but I think just a few choices in how it’s presented were just a bit inelegant compared to the rest of the film. I also didn’t like how a character literally has to say, “You were chosen because you’re a structural engineer who builds buildings.” This should have been clear to the audience and characters without being spelled out.
Overall, this is a story that’s been told, but it’s told competently with great acting performances and some stunning visuals that are well deployed. The ending is a little bit creaky compared to an otherwise extremely competent execution.