Let me start my review with a disclaimer that I love Roland Emmerich films. I’m not saying the guy is a genius, but he knows how to do big movies with big casts and at least make it fun to watch. So, I came into his latest film, 2012, ready to see basically Independence Day meets The Day After Tomorrow. And you know what? I got it.
The film follows mostly two groups of people who are dealing with the end of the world in the year 2012. We start off with Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 2009 learning that solar activity has caused the Earth’s core to heat up. We follow the next few years as he works with Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) on researching the issue and finding a solution (it’s just as enigmatic in the movie as it is in my description). Eventually we make it to 2012, where Helmsley and crew realize that things are going to get worse a lot quicker than they thought.
Also in the title year, we meet Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), novelist and bad parent/husband, which explains why his wife lives with another man now. He takes his kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone, where he meets Mr. Charlie Frost. Frost is a self-proclaimed prophet who believes the world will end in 2012 because the Earth’s core will melt, leaving the crust to move around (“shift”), creating every known geological disaster at once. He also knows about a conspiracy in which spaceships are being built to save those with money to buy a seat. We soon realize he’s correct, and Jackson takes his family on wild ride to get to the ships.
Before I get into plot or characters, I know everyone wants to know about the one thing you are really going to see the film for: the special effects. They were good, as to be expected, but they were mind-numbing at times. There was so much destruction going on that it was kind of hard to take it all in. Any scenes where people were involved in the destruction instantly became more interesting, and I thought as a whole they were done very well. Unfortunately, there were many less “Wow” moments that I would have thought to see in a film like this. I was simply underwhelmed.
That being said, the plot for the film bordered on absurd. Sure, the technology and the natural disasters we see are explained in a way that makes them seem reasonable (as if that mattered to us), but I found it convenient that Curtis and crew were always one step ahead of the destruction. The probability of them surviving the trip they made from Los Angeles to China is so small, that if I made a bet on it, I could afford multiple seats on one of the ships. There are so many “well, that’s convenient” moments that you start to roll your eyes after a while. The overall story is pretty thin, but there’s so much action that you almost don’t even notice it.
What you do notice, however, is the wide range in dialogue quality in the script. There are scenes (especially with Curtis’ kids), where they are very on the nose and almost Michael Bay-ish with the humor. However, there are some very touching moments between characters when they know one isn’t going to survive. Yes, at times the film is cheesy and unbelievable, but I have to admit that scenes like the one between Helmsley and his father definitely moved me.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that one of the things that made me the most mad was the ending. Other than the fact that the end itself was very “and they all lived happily…”, the plot surrounding the climax was silly. The message was clear, but the results weren’t as satisfying as they made it seem.
All in all, when you see 2012, you are getting what you paid for: Tons of CGI destruction, an ensemble of characters that come together at the end, and a big message about humanity as a whole. Oh yeah, and cheesy humor and unbelievable luck.
Final Grade: C+