There are several things that director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) doesn’t seem too concerned about in the bloated, CGI-laden disaster movie 2012. These include, but are not limited to: plot, character development, plausibility, restraint, and subtlety. I kind of understand why he chooses to ignore these elements. If you get bogged down with all these pesky details, how are you supposed to focus on THE SPECTACLE?
THE SPECTACLE is the star of this film, and clearly every resource available was used to ensure that this movie looks good, everything else be damned. 2012 is a full 2 1/2 hour visual assault of CGI, destruction, chase scenes, and every natural disaster a geophysicist could possibly imagine. It’s chalk full of action movie clichés, right down to the brooding and estranged ex-husband who happens to be near his old family when disaster strikes, and must lead them to safety. Not only is the movie wholly unoriginal, but it actually feels like Emmerich just cherry-picked his favorite scenes from action movies he likes, and found a way to throw them all into a threadbare story.
This is director indulgence gone too far. The movie is an hour too long, and a few key scenes would have had far more impact if there were not an action scene thrown in every 3-4 minutes. It’s as though Emmerich is saying to the audience: “You are going to sit there in your seat, and you are going to watch the crap out of this movie.”
A few token scenes about a family are thrown in to add some emotional resonance, but they feel too purposeful and forced to take seriously. That being said, Emmerich is no dummy. He recognizes that there will always be a niche for “CGI porn,” and if he doesn’t exploit it, Michael Bay and McG will gladly step in and do the honors.
He has made a career out of thrilling audiences with big, dumb movies that are all pomp and circumstance, with no soul. This is no exception. I have to say, though, that the man knows how to do action, and parts of the movie are thrilling. If that’s what you are seeking, that’s what you will get, for the entire running time. I just expect to find a shred of substance under the shiny wrapper of a movie. One can always dream.
The movie begins with a back story about how several world leaders and scientists have come to the grim conclusion that in the year 2012 a series of natural events involving the earth’s crust will ultimately result in the end of the human race. There is no way to reverse the process, they can only make provisions to try to save a handful of the population, with whom they can repopulate the earth after the events have passed. Naturally they take a page out of Noah’s notebook, and build giant arks (complete with special animal quarters) that can weather the approaching disaster.
Jackson (John Cusack) is the estranged family man I mentioned before. He takes his kids to Yellowstone for the weekend on a camping trip, where he meets an Art Bell-type conspiracy nut, who is running a radio show out of a shack. Charlie (played with relish by Woody Harrelson) starts prophesizing about he the end of the world, and conveniently shows Jackson some maps and documents that come in mighty useful later.
When weird things start taking place, Jackson must race to save his family from death, and get them to safety aboard of the ark-ships. Amanda Peet plays the ex-wife, and her new boyfriend makes the journey as well. The story becomes absolutely ludicrous when the family escapes death time after time after time. I’m willing to to suspend my belief for any film, but this just flips a middle finger to plausibility.
Compared to this, the “nuke the fridge” moment from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is downright believable. The sheer volume of coincidences and lucky breaks is absurd.
The acting is fine, nothing spectacular. In addition to Cusack and Peet, Danny Glover plays the president, and Oliver Platt plays a cartoonish White House insider. Thandie Newton also plays the president’s daughter. A few vague attempts to provide some social commentary on greed, wealth and corruption go nowhere. A lot of people are hoping that this falls into the “so bad it’s good” category.
As for me, I just think it’s bad, pure and simple.