Like a super-sized version of his earlier film The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich’s 2012th epic disaster movie to date (give or take) is spectacularly loud, laughably ludicrous and insanely entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The phrase ‘so bad it’s good’ just doesn’t quite cut it; 2012 is a full-blown disaster both on and off the screen, which is exactly what makes it so much fun.
This time round, Emmerich has kindly provided us with two years notice before the apocalypse. Apparently though, if we’d have listened to the Mayans, we’d have known about it centuries ago. Their calendar ends on December 21st 2012, which turns out to be the very date US scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) believes the Earth will expire. There’s some scientific mumbo jumbo to support his claim – something to do with solar eruptions destabilising the crust of the Earth – but don’t read into it too much. All you need to know is that when the dialogue goes something like this….
Scientist: Sir, I think you better look at this.
Chief of Staff: Oh….my…God….
Get me the President!
…shits about to hit the fan. Emmerich style.
Caught smack-bang in the middle of the impending apocalypse — along with six billion other people that don’t matter — is Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a struggling writer who promised his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) to take their two kids (Liam James & Lily Morgan) camping in Yellowstone National Park. The park, however, has been seized by the US military, who according to a crazed prophet Charlie (Woody Harrelson), are secretly setting in motion a contingency plan for the super-elite (and super-rich) to survive judgment day. It’s only after cracks the size of the Grand Canyon start devouring much of the world that Curtis begins to believe Charlie, and for the next two hours, attempts to outrun the apocalypse with his family and a bunch of hilariously caricaturised Russians (don’t ask).
Essentially, 2012 is one gigantic spoof of the entire disaster genre: Titanic, Deep Impact, Volcano, Armageddon, Dante’s Peak, Noah’s Ark, The Core, Poseidon… the gang’s all here. It succeeds because unlike the erratically self-serious Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012 knows it’s stupid. It embraces stupid like it were a long lost son. As millions upon millions of people are engulfed by tidal waves, struck by debris or incinerated in pits of molten lava, I challenge you not to laugh at the sheer excess and absurdity of it all. Take, for example, one hilarious scene where a light aircraft is dodging falling skyscrapers as the plates of the Earth start to subside, and suddenly a subway train launches out the side of the Earth’s crust, almost hitting their plane. It’s comedy gold!
Of course, stupidity comes at a price; what little plot there is shamelessly held together by clichés and ludicrous ‘right-place right-time’ conveniences. Then there’s also the problem of character development, which understandably doesn’t get much of a chance to occur between running from earthquakes and volcanic fireballs. Cusack and Ejiofor are likeable enough as the joint protagonists, the former spending most of his time in front of a green screen pretending to be terrified, the later prancing about the White House trying to save humanity. Elsewhere, Danny Glover horribly hams it up as the US President, while Woody Harrelson gets away with exaggerating his conspiracy-nut character because he’s, well, completely bonkers.
Woody Harrelson in 2012
For what 2012 lacks in brains, it sure as hell makes up for in brawn. The visual effects are utterly jaw dropping, created by a whole range of companies including the renowned Digital Domain (Titanic, Benjamin Button) and Double Negative (The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army). Rather than an enlisting an A-list cast, it’s clear that most of the film’s (rumoured) $200 million budget went into making some of the best destruction porn ever created. The stunning water animation alone is worth the price of admission.
But with the film’s bloated runtime of 158 minutes, it’s a destruction overload. To pass the time, Emmerich recycles the same sequences over and over again. First, there’s the old ‘airfield-is-collapsing-beneath-us-so-hurry-the-fu*k-up-and-take-off’ scene. We get that one no less than 3 times. Then there’s the ‘iconic-building-is-collapsing-on-hopeless-masses’ scene. That’s obligated to occur at least once per minute. Lastly, and most frustratingly, there’s the ‘I-just-called-to-say-I-love-you-before-we-all-die’ scene. It’s hard to repeatedly shed a tear when every single character in the film makes this same phone call, and it’s when Emmerich attempts poignancy (and fails miserably) that the film starts to bore.
More often than not, however, 2012 is a riotous action-extravaganza that knows how to have a good time. Whether it was intentional or not, this is hands down the best comedy of the year.