Our system of only watching movies that got above a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes has failed us.
We watched “Greenland” and it has problems, so so many problems.
If you haven’t seen this film already, this review will be completely loaded with spoilers, so make up your mind now. Although it’s probably okay because if you’ve seen one disaster movie, you’ve seen them all.
The first problem with disaster movies is usually the pseudoscience. If you know that going in, you can willingly suspend your disbelief and try to enjoy the thrill ride.
Unfortunately, the first problem with “Greenland” is not the pseudoscientific disaster but the ethical disaster. It’s a morass. The worldview of this film does not even make sense.
In a nutshell, the plot goes like this. A comet is going to hit the Earth in an extinction-level event. A very small group of people have been selected, by profession, to get on a bunch of planes and be whisked off to some special bunkers to ride out the catastrophe. But the logistics are problematic.
Cue: humans decompensating.
The only part of this movie that we found believable, as people who [job details redacted], was the crowd behavior. People refuse to wait in line. People cause traffic jams. People loot stores. People start punching each other over the least provocation. Someone should actually just make a supercut of scenes like this from various disaster and action films, spliced with clips from actual news broadcasts, and just lay a black metal soundtrack over it.
Okay, where do the ethical issues come in?
The story starts with a quick demonstration that the protagonist is a structural engineer/workaholic. He’s going to help out with a party at the home of his estranged wife and son. Almost immediately, he gets a ‘presidential alert’ on his phone that he needs to grab his wife, kid, and luggage and get down to the Air Force base.
[There are a million and five reality-based problems with this, but it’s crucial to the plot that a) this guy never knew he was on some kind of list and had no advance preparation and b) he and his family are... deserving?]
All the friends and neighbors are present in the living room when the news hits, both that their region is going to be wiped out by this comet hitting the Earth and that these three individuals, but no others, are going to be rescued.
Alpha-protagonist convinces estranged wife and kid to go with him, though evidently he has broken their trust in some way. Neighbors start crying, following them with pleas and attempts to negotiate. One neighbor blocks the vehicle, begging that they take her daughter with them. NOPE.
What is this scene saying? We have no choice but to follow orders and obey; we would only be turned away if we tried to bring extra people. You weren’t selected so deal with it.
Everything after this point in the plot has the exact opposite message.
I think the theme of this film is that this family has grit and loyalty, therefore they deserve to make it to the end. Even though that is true of other families in the film who don’t.
What is presented is fairly realistic, in that the family are disorganized and poor communicators. They are as entitled as one would expect, given their neighborhood and social class. They are constantly interrupting people, screaming, cutting ahead in line, and convinced that their needs come first. There is only one moment when any of them shows any care or consideration for others, and that is when Protagonist drags a man out of a burning car.
(But why then? When the world is physically coming to an end?)
Part of the muddle of this film is that the family is trying to finagle their way around a government plan that is portrayed as simultaneously sinister and sloppy, both cruel and logical, both poorly and well planned, both effectively and ineffectively executed.
The motive of the protagonist seems to be, I will take advantage of my elite place in this plan, even after I have been formally cut from the team.
Is there some kind of plan to preserve certain subject matter experts in the event of a crisis? I do not know, but I strongly suspect there is. Would this plan include random people with no security clearance who were not notified until literally the last minute? Implausible. If such a plan did exist, would it include the family members of this person, regardless of their health situation? Probably yeah. We have this thing called a group insurance policy.
I know a bunch of SMEs who have significant health issues and need various accommodations to do their work. In our world, there is no requirement to be able-bodied - that’s for astronauts, Navy SEALs, the Secret Service, and that sort of high-test individual.
I might have liked this movie better if this dude drew on his natural alpha powers and rallied his neighbors in some way. Structural engineer, yeah? You have an entire neighborhood full of construction materials and tools - can’t you just get an excavator from your work site and build some kind of bunker for a couple hundred people in the next day or two?
Gimme a break. If one series of implausible events can happen in this plot, then why not another equally implausible formulation?
Such as someone somehow knowing the exact place in Greenland that would be safe for an ordinary building to ride out a planetary catastrophe? And then opening the doors after nine months to sunlight rather than sheets of ice? (There is no season when this timing would work out, even in a normal Greenland).
The moral of the story is that one of the most selfish families in Florida gets to ride out an extinction-level event by crossing two international borders, committing manslaughter, and arguably causing a plane crash. What is the message? That they do/don’t deserve their place, that the government’s plan did/did not work, that the manifest destiny of Americans is literally everywhere, and that people should/shouldn’t be “saved” based on their contribution to the economy?
The only thing I can tell you is that if there was a nervous-making comet headed our way, we would probably see it months in advance. It’s been 66 million years since the last real troublemaker hit the Earth, just as it will be another 66 million years before someone makes a disaster movie that actually makes any sense.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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