I should have run. Like all those people in crumbling L.A., Hawaii, Washington, etc. I should have run for the hills when my group picked this movie. Granted, for our purposes (to test the visual and auditory limits of an uncle’s kick ass home theater) it was the right pick. Effects-wise, 2012 is like a punch in the teeth, but aside from that, I can’t think of many other redeeming qualities. Like Pompeii, the movie is based on a cataclysmic event, leaving the characters and storyline feeling like a neglected afterthought. It’s a lot of falling buildings and disintegrating landmarks roped together with a dozen or so tearful farewells between characters whose names aren’t important. After a while all you want to do is fast forward to the next disastrous scene.
2012 is like every Discovery/National Geographic channel “What Might Happen” show combined into one. It intermittently focuses on one geologist who spends years planning humanity’s escape – thus earning himself a seat on the Getoutofdodge ship – and on one family who learned that the end is nigh not two hours ago from a unabomber in Yellowstone Park. This family will do whatever it takes to make it out alive, including launching a camper across a gorge, flying a plane through volcanic clouds (twice), abandoning a brand-new Bentley in the Himalayas, and temporarily providing support for a collapsing freeway using nothing but the roof of their limo and the power of prayer. They travel halfway around the world (which is a shorter distance than you might think, due to the shifting tectonic plates which literally bring China to them) in search of the rescue ships which can save them from this planet-wide sinkhole.
This is not a feel-good film. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) mouth-breathes his way from neglectful father to the Saviour of Humanity, while Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) can’t make it through a scene without arguing against the 1% and then doing nothing to level the unbalance. Wait, sorry, I’m wrong: he does fight for equality once but his actions nearly drive the human race into extinction. “One for all and all for one?” said the salmon to the grizzly bear.
However, the plot and the acting are only half the movie – which is a terrible fraction to base a movie on but hey, here we are. 2012 is actually a relevant film when you look at the literally groundbreaking effects. First there are earthquakes – massive, city-swallowing, people-falling-from-buildings earthquakes. Then there are volcanoes: blinding explosions, raining fireballs, ash blankets, lava… Bypass the frog plague and the hungry locusts, and we come to death-by-water. Ironically, the only rain we see in this film is during the introductory foreshadowing. The rest of the water materializes out of nowhere to build waves so big the peak of Everest looks like a floating paper hat. These effects are horrific and sublime. Like all the civilians who fell into chasms, they swallow you whole. If the point is to make me afraid of all the What If’s those disaster channels feed us, 2012 is an absolute success.
The year of 2012 has come and gone and all those Mayan ghosts are laughing at our skepticism in there being a followup calendar. As a special effects movie, 2012 is a success. As a disaster movie on the whole, it is visually horrific but dramatically needy. I get that it’s humanity’s worst day since Noah felt the rain, but 2012’s characters and the storyline amount to one big ripe bowl of cheese. 2012 gets a score of 4 miraculous survivals out of 10 certain deaths. By my tone of voice above, 4 would seem quite generous, but I assure you, it is well calculated: 1 point for the earthquakes, 1 for the volcanoes, 1 for the water, and 1 for the old monk who sat through the apocalypse with a soothing cup of tea. He, at least, is a man with a plan.