Starring: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet
Directed By: Roland Emmerich
2012 is an unbelievably dumb and sentimental movie. The plot sags like a soggy biscuit and the science is utter garbage. Neither of which would matter much but the whole thing is so drawn out it could give you haemorrhoids. If the end of the world is coming, you’ll be preying it would come a damn sight faster and preferably right on top of where you are sitting first.
Okay, so even for a disaster movie 2012 is definitely stupid, but is it funny stupid, say in the same way as Irwin Allen’s deadly Styrofoam wasp drama The Swarm (1978)? No, not really, though it does provide a few satisfactory jolts before whisking its audience into a saccharine induced coma.
The visual fx are awesome, especially when depicting the end of somewhere you might immediately recognise, such as the toppling of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro or an aircraft supercarrier somersaulting onto the White House lawn. When director Roland Emmerich pulls back for a wide shot the screen fills with jutting earth crust left right and centre, but the CGI works more effectively in tighter scenarios where actual human beings are involved. Fleeing dad Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) and family zipping along the tarmac of a rapidly disintegrating airstrip is an early adrenaline rush after a slow, if engrossing, build up.
Problem is this particular action scene is repeated three times, twice with the same small plane and then once more with a really big plane. Our heroes make a run for their transport as the cracks appear, get along the runway as it all starts falling down, then fly up into the air just in time to watch the world collapse around them. Make a bathroom pit stop anytime during these moments and you’re liable to suffer some serious déjà vu on your return.
Clearly 2012 is not intended as a major costume movie. In the strictest sense it might be ‘period’ but thankfully costume designer Shay Cunliffe (The Bourne Ultimatum) has not risked any obvious fashion statements, choosing instead to have her fun subverting character archetypes through uniform.
Cusack’s Curtis as action man in a plain black suit and tie (his limo driver’s outfit) or plastic surgeon Dr. Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy) as a scrubs wearing amateur pilot, mommy Kate (Amanda Peet) in her best weekend peasant dress with casual hoody thrown over the top, even Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) as the bimbo with a heart of gold – don’t judge a person by their stilettos; she may look like a whore but will happily save a couple of kids above her own life.
Nobody in 2012 behaves how you might expect; this is to say nobody is out for themselves, apart from one or two sneery villains who chop and change as the mood takes them. The costumes are fun as they provide no indication as to who will do what. Surprised that Dr Silberman was a pilot? We bet you were. He was wearing his scrubs at breakfast for goodness sake.
Typical for a disaster movie the cast is a cache of A-listers, B-listers and craggy types you have not seen in years (yep, George Segal certainly has changed from those late night Rollercoaster repeats). For once in his life John Cusack comes across as mildly annoying. His everyman character is lucky rather than brave and in the early scenes just a tad too smart-ass and sorry for himself to get on board with.
No such charisma trouble for deservedly rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor as White House scientific advisor Adrian Helmsley. Despite playing someone who is frankly too good to be true, Ejiofor sells so much with his eyes that you cannot help but believe every syrupy humanity sermon he spurts. If Helmsley is not set-up to be President of the New World then we have missed something big time.
The gargantuan gaps in logic throughout 2012 are impossible to miss however. Granted this is the kind of movie where audience suspension of disbelief is integral to enjoyment. All disaster flicks are this way, in real life nothing ever happens as quickly or neatly as it does in a Hollywood movie. People do not usually get chance to finish sentences before dying and phone lines barely function beyond a particularly ferocious thunderstorm. This is all fine, but 2012 just pushes everything too far.
For example, how is it possible to predict precisely to the nearest minute when a tsunami big enough to submerge Mount Everest is going to hit? Or design and build several submarine/boat ‘arks’ in the side of a mountain that are so enormous they can withstand force of said tsunami with just a single cracked windscreen? Never mind that the pressure would flatten them like tin cans, how would it be feasible to build these things, in secret, in the meagre three year warning the top brass gets? Three years!
Moreover how could anyone negotiate such a cross-international treaty of diversified funds and executive, building materials, labour, power, ownership, etc? Of course they couldn’t and not for one single second will you believe they could. It is just too much. The ships, the secret, the manpower; it is all just too big.
Amazing as well that the film’s main characters all seem to bump into each other at some point and, even better, actually have a history. Tamera is Russian but as luck would have it her breast enlargement surgery was carried out by L.A. based Dr. Silberman. Maybe because he is the best in the world and her sugar daddy Yuri (a funny performance from Zlatko Buri) wants to pay for the best? No and no. Billionaire Yuri is, as we discover, something of a cheapskate where Tamera is concerned and Silberman is far from being No.1 plastic surgeon on the planet because he lives in a rather modest house and does not even drive the best Porsche (after learning about his character we know he surely would if he could).
Possibly we are reading too much into this, but so many similar coincidences pile up that everything begins to make no sense. By the time Helmsley recognises Curtis’ kids trapped in the gearing mechanism of one of the arks on a tiny CCTV screen he just happens to be staring toward at just the right moment, you will be either laughing or crying.
Laughing along with 2012 would have been easier were it an hour shorter, cut practically every line of sentimental mush that does not proceed a building falling on someone’s head and upped the planetary destruction quota even more.
Though if the promised lure of a popcorn night out is too great to pass up, bear two of Roland Emmerich’s previous films in mind as barometer. The science in 2012 makes The Day After Tomorrow (2004) look like a Discovery channel documentary, yet it is nowhere as daft as 10,000 BC (2008). Same goes for dialogue, pacing, acting and CGI – none are as bad as 10,000 BC.
If you can see this as any kind of recommendation then go for it. If not, stay at home and whack The Day After Tomorrow in the DVD player again. Compared to 2012 it is a work of god-like genius.
© 2009 – 2012, Chris Laverty.