Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Tom McCarthy, Danny Glover, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Woody Harrelson
MPAA Rating: (for intense disaster sequences and some language)
Running Time: 2:38
Release Date: 11/13/09
Review by Mark Dujsik
The world ends in tremendous, aggressive fashion in 2012, brought to realization by some impressive effects. It's all directed by Roland Emmerich, the man who envisioned the end of the world by aliens in Independence Day and man-made climate change in The Day After Tomorrow, but the destruction set loose on humanity and the planet by those is nothing compared to this. This is devastation on a massive scale that sees California sink into the ocean, Yellowstone National Park turn into a volcano, and the oceans rise so high that Mt. Everest is presumably the only body of land above water.
There's so much ambitious spectacle, but it's surrounded by so many lazy contrivances that one would want to gasp in astonishment if one weren't chuckling and groaning in aggravation so often.
The movie's premise is that the end of the Mayan calendar on December 20, 2012, is meant to signal the end of the world. There are tons of theories about all of this, but none of them seem to know that the Mayan Long Count calendar continues after that, with the 2012 date merely signaling the end of a cycle, with the cycles running a bit less than 400 years.
Fortunately, 2012 leaves all that phooey to a crazy pirate radio guy but instead invents its own crackpot reason for the Earth's destruction in the form of mutated neutrinos from the Sun that act as microwaves on the planet's core, which in turn heat it causing the Earth's crust to shift wildly and the magnetic poles to move. The South Pole ends up somewhere in Wisconsin, but that's after the crackpot radio DJ tells us that not only did Albert Einstein believe this would happen but also that the Mayans specifically predicted this would be the cause of the end of the world.
It's ridiculous, yes, but movies like this need a MacGuffin that outrageous to make even the tiniest bit of sense. Or maybe I'm wrong, and we could just forgo the nonsensical science and mythological babble and let the Earth be destroyed while the characters scratch their heads wondering what happened.
Either way, the movie has it in there, and I would love to say I was annoyed by it all, but Emmerich, unlike in his global warming disaster movie, is at least able to let the joke play and move on. I don't believe he thinks it's a joke, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a joke. You'll know it is, too, when you hear it.
This gets me to my key frustration with the movie, which doesn't just stop with the hackneyed science. It continues throwing every possible disaster movie formula at us while wowing us with the destruction. It's not enough that we follow one character through it all; we have to have a hodgepodge of people.
There's the writer (John Cusack), whose ex-wife (Amanda Peet) has a new beau (Tom McCarthy) whom his kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) love. There's the geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who knows all of this is coming but is a bit wrong with the timing, which the conniving politician (Oliver Platt) is keen to throw in his face. There's the President (Danny Glover), who really, really wants to tell the world that their home's about to have all of Mother Nature violently thrown in their faces, but even more wants his daughter (Thandie Newton) to be happy.
There are more, too, including Woody Harrelson as the DJ and a few rich Russians for some reason, but I think the point is pretty clear just with these. They all have names, but what's the point when you only remember them for their profession or relationship to another character.
All of them have their sentimental moments and moments of moral outrage and moments of villainous deceit and moments and moments and moments. The large majority of them ring false, but I kind of admired the scene where the geologist's father's (Blu Mankuma) friend (George Segal) tries to call his son to say good-bye, only to hear them screaming in panic on the other end. To contrast that bit of shattered expectations, the little dog—there's always a little dog—lives.
Right on target with expectations are the repeated sequences of characters outrunning all sorts of things, like the giant chasms caused by earthquakes, rocketing fireballs, and plumes of smoke and ash, while on foot, in cars, and airborne. The first major disaster sequence (which starts, I kid you not, with a character saying, "It feels like something's coming between us," right before an abyss in the ground separates them) has the dysfunctional family dodging cars, falling interstates, and collapsing buildings, and that's before they get in a plane.
Emmerich does give us what we want and expect in the form of distant views of the chaos. We see the coast of California break apart and violently slip into the ocean, and the shot of the grounds of Yellowstone bubbling before eruption is quite a sight.What we don't want but unfortunately have come to expect are the formula characters and scenarios in between. At a whopping two hours and forty minutes, 2012 has far too many of those, and Emmerich plays them straight while we laugh at his awkward earnestness.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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