2012 Review: End it now, please!
Last night, out of the blue, I went to watch Roland Emmerich's latest world-beating flick, 2012. I went in having read various reviews, some praising, some lambasting the movie. I set my expectations low and just wanted to enjoy the special effects... however I still left the theater with less than stellar thoughts about this film. End of the World films aren't new to me- Deep Impact still stands as probably the best one I've seen so far, taking a very emotional look at what would happen in the last days building up to a worldwide apocalypse. Even with the grim premise, that flick left me uplifted and believing in the human spirit to survive. This one left me jaded, resentful and just tired, not to mention utterly frustrated at the maudlin, clunky script.
2012 opens up in current 2009 with a geologist named Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejofor) finding out from his scientist friend in India that the sun is sending out dangerous neutrinos that are basically microwaving the planet Earth, causing the core to heat up rapidly (why humans aren't being affected is one of the huge plotholes, I think, but hey, I'm no scientist). From this discovery, Helmsley realizes that this will result in a chain of events which will basically cause the End of the World. He immediately gives word of this to the US government, via White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (a very ruthless at portly Oliver Platt). Thus a secret plan is set in motion to preserve the human race through giant arks that will ensure the survival of 400,000 select humans (and a bunch of animals, apparently) through the coming armageddon. To help fund the big operation, 'tickets' for boarding the arks are sold at the very reasonable price of 1 billion Euros a seat. How... nice.
Anyway, after all this setup, the 'heart' of the film is revealed in divorced former writer-turned-limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), who just happens to be taking his kids camping to Yellowstone Park. In a fortuitous series of events, he finds out about the coming crisis from a pretty nutty conspiracy nut (Woody Harrelson) and soon is racing with his estranged family (including his ex-wife Amanda Peet and her new husband) to find supposed salvation in the China-made arks.
So that's the movie- about a third of it is about the super-secret and super-stingy operation to save the world's rich and powerful via their futuristic ocean-going luxury star destroyers (including a captain that seems to have graduated from Star Wars' Imperial Starfleet Academy). A third of it is all about showing the world getting destroyed in spectacular CG fashion (albeit strangely bloodless and impersonal) by earthquake and flood, while the last third is the clunky, totally ridiculous story of Cusack and the people he uses/tags along with to try and save his family's skins.
The movie is at its best when it's a roller coaster ride- though really, Cusack and family are always one inch away from doom so many times, it becomes predictable very quickly. Really though, even from the first time you KNOW that there's no way they're not going to make it- which pretty much kills the thrill in some ways, although it's still fascinating to see all the wholesale destruction rendered so onscreen.
It's funny- you see Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Italy and Washington fall to ruin with little emotion- it's all shown as grandiose, cartoony spectacle for the most part. When the movie tries to go in close to show the personal drama of a character's last moments, it turns out maudlin and yet again, does it far too often with characters who really don't matter or the audience doesn't give a damn for; are we supposed to feel worse for the family of a side character than we do for all the countless others lost in the rest of the film? Danny Glover's defeatist, depressing US president, who elected to stay behind and die in the White House, is woefully pathetic as he spends his last few moments in a useless and pointless gesture right before he gets a tidal wave and an aircraft carrier in the face. Morgan Freeman he ain't (yet another place where Deep Impact one ups this flick- the black president there was way more sensible and effective).
When it's not showing wholesale destruction, 2012 sadly bogs down with the adventures of Cusack and company, who are so painful to watch (these idiots deserve a facepalm so many times) that you'd wish they did indeed get swallowed up by the earth. Man, I'd rather that the Indian guy and his family survived instead of Cusack and clan.
Anyway, the film ends with a pretty odd choice of finale; in contrast to how the rest of the film has been occupied with wide vistas of carnage, it all finishes with a rather closed-in conflict with Cusack braving a submerged room full of big gears that he has to un-jam in order to save the Ark from certain doom thereby eliciting a requisite HURRAH from everyone on board (even though he and company were the cause of gears getting jammed in the first place).
I think a lot of my distaste for this film lies in the premise of the US-sponsored, China-made Arks. The whole operation was secretive and selective, and basically gave up the rest of the world just to save a select few. I actually wish that the ending was different- that the Arks ultimately fail and sink and send their nasty contents to a much-deserved drowning death (with Oliver Platt's slimy Chief of Staff first and foremost), even as we find out in the end that good people were able to go into some hidden valley and ride out the storm to survive. But no, that doesn't happen. For the most part, the good people of the earth die, and only the very powerful and very rich (along with a smattering of very lucky Chinese laborers and a bunch of super-lucky but otherwise utterly brain-dead nobodies) live to inherit the earth.
Despite some pretty impressive CG, 2012 is otherwise an incredibly bad and dragging movie, thanks to a nasty and clunky script that only tries (and fails miserably) to find it's humanity and redemption at the 11th hour. I've never had so many moments where I found myself throwing my hands in the air in frustration. Man, Let it end. Let it end already. Anyway, I guess it's inevitable that many will watch this disaster, in the same way that you really can't avoid staring at a car crash when you see one on the road- and this movie is indeed a car crash... on a global scale.