The for Gerard Butler vehicles is about as low as low gets, so if I first say that Greenland is, like, obviously the best Gerard Butler movie I've ever seen, I have given you very little information. It could still be a bad movie, and indeed, if we were to talk strictly in terms of percentages, I would have to say that a good half or more of Greenland is a bad movie. But let's take a moment to accentuate the positive: the somewhat-less-than-a-half of Greenland that's not a bad movie is, in fact, extremely not a bad movie. Not only is it the best Gerard Butler movie I have ever seen, by an order of magnitude, it's the best disaster movie in at least several years; not since the affably shameless 2012 in 2009 has a movie in this genre been so aware of what it wants to do with the form and why, and Greenland is way the hell smarter than 2012. And that's even true of the bad half.

But let us for right now be done with fractions, and think about Greenland as a whole. The easiest way to do this is by analogy: what if 1998's Deep Impact turned into 2012, and was then placed into the crude, meaty hands of the director of Angel Has Fallen? The latter part isn't actually an analogy: this is, in fact, helmed by Ric Roman Waugh, former stuntman turned director, whose last project was that 2019 slog of a Butler movie. The best thing I can say about this is that it is easy, sometimes, to forget that this is the case. There are even so moments that are damn near graceful in the film, by the standards of big, loutish action thrillers; at one point, having separated the three members of the family whose reunification is the primary subject (for what would a disaster movie be without a couple on the brink of divorce reigniting their love? Greenland simply has decided to be efficient and remove literally everything else), the film visits each of them in a lengthy dialogue-free sequence that even drops out the sound completely to underline the Butler character's complete discombobulation. It's not high art, but it's not meant to be, and it has a distinct elegance by the populist standards it is working within.

The Butler character - his name is John Garrity, but ten minutes after the movie ended I wouldn't have remembered that even if you pulled a knife on me and asked - has, at the start of the film, just returned to the home where he intermittently lives with the Morena Baccarin character, Allison, his estranged wife, and their seven-year-old son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). The implication is that they've agreed to try living together again for at least a little while and see if it's maybe a bit less horrible, and the implication is also that this is something they're mostly doing on Nathan's behalf.

The timing couldn't be better: John returns the same day that a newly discovered comet from outside our solar system,* called Clarke, is making its closest approach to Earth, so close that it will be visible during the daytime, and the family is hosting a viewing party. Unfortunately, the party gets rudely interrupted with a special emergency message on John's phone and the Garrity's TV, telling them that they - and only they - are to report to a nearby airbase, the implication very obviously being that there is some kind of unspeakable emergency that is going to involve a very small number of evacuations, and presumably John's work as a structural engineer made him a candidate. And indeed, hardly has the party started before one large piece of Clarke - which is made up of several discrete chunks - has gone off the path the scientists predicted, and rather than playfully landing in the Gulf of Mexico, it has wiped Tampa, Florida off the map and generated a shockwave reaching 1500 miles away.

This is, in all sincerity, great stuff. Or at least great-with-an-asterisk, in that you have to like disaster movies to give a shit about the broad-strokes storytelling and emotion-building that Greenland gets up to. The film's first act is, in effect, "how do you navigate the bureaucracy set up to manage the apocalypse?" which is awfully close to a brand-new idea in my experience, and in a genre almost specifically noteworthy for its lack of new ideas. And Chris Sparling's script does a lovely job of teasing out this idea through innuendo and ellipses, with the film implying a whole hell of a lot and only very rarely telling us anything. This results in at least one disaster movie hall-of-fame scene, when the partygoers start to laboriously, disbelievingly piece together that A) they're all going to die, B) the government and possibly the media have been working to hide this piece of information from them, C) the Garritys, those sons of bitches, aren't going to die. All of it in jaggedy handheld camera, anchored around Butler looking stunned and mortified, in the single best beat of acting I have ever seen him offer in a movie. Admittedly, the moment mostly requires him to gawk and gawp like a big dumb fish that has just been hauled onto a sandbar. Still.

The whole first act goes so well that the film invariably has to go off the rails; or perhaps it is better to say, it has been joyfully careering around, unbeholden to the normal course of films like this, and it very sadly gets back on track. Because this is a Gerard Butler movie that's basically The Entire Planet Has Fallen, and you can point to not just the scene, but the shot where that pivot back into thudding mediocrity takes place. It takes place just a hair before the one-third mark, for the record. There are still the occasional fine moment in there, and Scott Glenn shows up for a few scenes and we all love Scott Glenn, and Butler gets to use his own accent, though sometimes he forgets and tries to sound American, but mostly we don't have to cope with him coughing his lines out like he does so often. Mostly, Greenland is just made up of boilerplate scenes of people moving very fast, often while shouting at other people to also move fast, and all while the film has been color-graded a uniquely revolting shade of brownish-yellow, like some unfathomable Titan who hasn't been drinking nearly enough water pissed over the entire world.

Still, even the boilerplate is better than I expected, save for the weak patches in the CGI, and the film's attentive focus on the central concept - what would it be like to try and survive a couple of days as the world turns into a hellstorm of  comet fragments? - means that it gets some nice variations on its setpieces. Really, the only problem that it completely cannot survive is that it emphasises the family drama far too much, given that Butler, Baccarin, and Floyd offer not the slightest impression that they are even good acquaintances, let alone a nuclear family. Butler is trying awfully hard to be emotionally expressive, and he's just not that good at it, and there are way too many scenes in the last two-thirds that bank everything on the emotions landing.

Still, bad acting and inauthentic emotions are just going to show up in disaster movies; stories that take a genuinely fresh angle to view the disaster aren't, and sophisticated, implication-based exposition isn't either. Greenland is even kind of smart, if not in a global sense then certainly in how it attempts to get to the inevitable "drive faster than the planet-killing comet" passage that dominates its running time. It's typical genre fare at worst, and truly ingenious genre fare at best, and I think that's worth a passing grade, albeit one offered with very little enthusiasm.

*I was going to do a whole thing about how that's not the way comets work, only to learn that just in 2020, scientists studied the first known comet to have joined our solar system from a different solar system. So a point to you, Greenland.