2012, dir. Roland Emmerich, Columbia Pictures. Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peek, Chiwetel Ejiofor (2009).Reviewed by The Exploding Boy
2012 is directed by Roland Emmerich, the same guy who brought us Stargate, Godzilla, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. All monumentally successful movies, bringing high-tech effects and epic storylines to the silver screen—but nothing that compares to the monstrous overkill that is 2012, a movie that has already cleaned up at the US box office. Internationally, reviews have ranged from mixed to negative.
The basic premise of the film stems from the myth of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which apparently predicts the End of the World on December 21st 2012. Emmerich focuses on the imagined horror of this event in order to shape his disaster movie, a movie that US critics have already hailed as ‘the mother of all disaster movies’. Due to a solar flare heating up the Earth’s core at an unbelievable rate, the Earth’s crust begins to shift, sparking a worldwide Doomsday Event. The film focuses on several characters as they duck and dive through the ensuing digital chaos in an effort to reach the Himalayas where salvation may or may not wait for them.
In a movie like this, the CGI is the real star, and if you think along the lines of Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow and Deep Impact, all turned up to 10, you’ll have already seen this movie. Here Emmerich goes all out, and it’s hard not to feel awed as you watch California slide into the sea or tidal waves decimate Washington. The action, as usual, centres mainly on the US, with a few token acknowledgements along the way that other countries actually exist, in the form of India and China (and a very stereotypical Britain, complete with Queen and corgis—you almost feel patted on the head).
The destruction is, admittedly, stunning, but sadly the only strength of this film. The human drama just can’t compete, as you eagerly await the next sensational catastrophe. As you’d expect, the script is little more than a series of clichés, delivered by clichéd actors reprising the roles of other clichéd actors in other clichéd disaster films (there are, naturally, the obligatory cute kids). But if you can put all that aside and focus on the unfolding mayhem, you might prise a little sadistic enjoyment from this movie. You won’t find many thrills in the acting, that’s for sure—John Cusack is John Cusack, Danny Glover is Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson etc. etc.—or in the saccharine-drenched moralising about humanity, compassion, self-sacrifice etc. etc.—all the things that the US government are so adept at practising in real life (ahem).
As in Independence Day, Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow, if it wasn’t for the States, we’d all be doomed. To be fair, there is a thread in the film that shows governmental wrongdoing by the good ole US of A, but all the speech making and ‘one-for-all’ posturing by the good ole American president (Glover) quickly swamps it. I guess that’s the most fantastical thing about 2012. Despite the fact that in real life the United States pillage the Earth’s resources more than any other country and are currently involved in an illegal war, Emmerich portrays the US here as the paragon of human achievement, decency and our only hope of salvation. Ok, so it’s only a film, but it still grates. Gauche is the word.
In summary, 2012 is a big dumbass action movie. I winced at the Bentley advert slapped right bang in the middle of one OTT scene (and it’s OTT all the way here—subtlety took a rain check). Product placement aside, it’s one of those films where you can play ‘follow the stereotype’ and guess who’s going to cop it next with zero difficulty, where the characters have the emotional range of a small tree and the plot holes gape almost as wide as the snaking cracks in the pavement. It’s popcorn, it’s ‘fun’, it’s done. The preposterous leap into sci-fi towards the end of the movie almost goes unnoticed, the production is so overwhelming. The veiled Biblical message comes over as laughable. America vies for cinematic sainthood yet again. Think Noah’s Ark and you’re on the right track.
With the scale of the destruction, one can only guess where filmmakers will go to next. There doesn’t seem much ground left to cover unless an imploding universe movie is on the cards. One thing’s for sure, as I watched the seas rise and continents shift, I couldn’t help but wonder that if this really was the End of the World—Hollywood style—why I wasn’t more sorry to see it go.