Tremendous special effects duke it out with stupid characterizations in 2012, a movie less concerned with Mayan theology than with putting on a thrill ride featuring 1,001 close calls. Massive destruction is caught with wide-angle shots and aerial shots that were made with seamless composites by a heavily geared special effects team, of course, director Roland Emmerich of “Independence Day” fame is the commandant behind the production. What Emmerich is a master of is composing fragment shots of debris and wreckage flying at the camera. Armageddon-disaster movie is his specialty, so is staging an ensemble of movie stars who narrowly dodge record-breaking earthquakes and volcanic eruptions with poise and ease.
Matters of enjoyment come down to how much you can tolerate ham-fisted dialogue and impossible contrived situations. When the end of the world is near, for instance, do you really risk your life and the lives of others to collect your poodle? Or shots of planes taking off from broken asphalt runway? Emmerich, who brings tsunami disaster to India with the same large scale pluck as he does turning Los Angeles and Yellowstone Park into a ferocious volcano, is happy to go ’round the world to depict catastrophe. He also goes to China to introduce us to Buddhists and their wisdom, but there, he supplies them with trite lines of pseudo-wisdom.
As the representing common man, John Cusack plays a family man fortuitous enough to break the odds, travelling from Los Angeles to China, with what is either genius or luck. Only a few hundred-thousand on the entire planet have a ticket to board “the ship,” the only exodus available. The ticket-holders are the rich, the ones that could afford to live on, while everyone else worth less than a billion dollars will not be saved. Danny Glover as the President of the United States chooses to accept his exit with timeliness, and humbleness, imparting compassion for the citizens doomed.
Big chunks of the film are preposterously entertaining, and anybody remotely impressed by special effects will not be bored. Did I mention Woody Harrelson plays a bearded nutjob deejay who isn’t so much a nutjob after his predictions come true at Yellowstone? Did I mention that Chiwetel Ejiofor as the head scientist and Thandie Newton as the first daughter of the United States are the most attractive, and brainiest two of the film? Or how about Oliver Platt as the dispassionate chief of staff who doesn’t care much if his mother perishes? The dialogue for this genre, as corny as it is, has improved marginally since the “Airport” and “Towering Inferno” disaster movie days of the ’70’s.
The film has its share of oversights and peculiarities. In the Los Angeles destruction scenes, we get loads of shots of buildings and vehicles battered to smithereens, but there are never any people in the shots. When Cusack’s plane flies overhead the whole earth is collapsing but Emmerich forgot to put waste human bodies in there. I suppose that’s cleaner for the family audience.
At 2 hours and 37 minutes, the insinuation is that billions of people will be doomed, but can be swallowed easier when there are less people in the frame. Cusack also drives miraculously fast through non-traffic Los Angeles, a city with a clichéd amount of palm trees. Aboard the ship in the conclusion, some of the survivors don’t look like rich people but rather an average looking cast of extras who appear like they came from the middle class, but that observation is a judgment call.
“2012” is what it is. I found the disaster stuff fun for awhile until I could no longer tolerate its banality. Despite that, I was never bored (just annoyed). Perhaps it is best to enjoy in small pieces and fragments, when it comes on cable here and there.
158 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION & ADVENTURE / DOOMSDAY SCENARIO / FRIDAY NIGHT POPCORN FLICK
Film Cousins: “Earthquake” (1974); “Armageddon” (1998); “Deep Impact” (1998); “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004).