When a battleship squishes the President of the United States, you know you’re watching a Roland Emmerich movie. The same man who introduced the world to Will Smith by having Big Willie knock-out an extra-terrestrial; the same man who had Jake Gyllenhaal fend off the next ice age with a campfire; the same man who gave you Ferris Bueller versus Godzilla(!!!) brings you this: the end of the world as we know it (unless you’re a hard-up character actor, or a cute kid, or a giraffe, or a Tibetan monk). For shear, insane, eyeball-trampling spectacle, Emmerich deserves a medal. For story-telling (and everything else), he deserves a punch.
As predicted by the ancient Mayans, the world goes tits-up in 2012. Solar rays melt the Earth’s core. This is pretty f—ing bad news for six billion people, but (on the plus side) it does mean John Cusack will get back together with his ex-wife. In vintage Irving Allen disaster movie fashion, the Apocalypse is really just the cue for broken-hearts to get mended, for small girls to overcome incontinence, and for a cute dog to escape death… by a whisker! Scant attention is paid to the enormous loss of life (or to the laws of physics), as a ragtag group of disparate survivors struggle with their personal problems, weep for countless extras, and teach us how to love.
Saying this movie is ridiculous is like saying a hurricane is loud. You think Roland Emmerich doesn’t know his movie is ridiculous? In 2012, the Earth’s crust moves just so John Cusack and his family will have someplace to land a stolen plane. It’s a movie where a drowning monk gazes up at a forlorn giraffe; where the Chinese army airlift an elephant onto a steel ark in the Himalayas. Woody Harrelson seems sane in this movie. We’re talking about a magnitude of crazy that exceeds all grasp. By the time Oliver Platt confesses to assassinating the director of the Louvre (for being “an enemy of humanity!”), the word “ridiculous” feels puny.
John Cusack acts like the painkillers have just kicked in. He looks like he’s trying to block the movie out. But Cusack’s deadpan delivery comes in for a rough ride in 2012, because even the drollest f—er on the planet would have a hard time looking nonplussed as Los Angeles explodes around him. Cusack’s job for most of the movie is to run away while another landmark goes kabluey. His dialogue mostly consists of saying “now” (as in “we have to go now”), or giving his kids bogus assurances that “everything’s gonna be ok” as Hawaii burns in the background. As a father, he’s about as plausible as the science of 2012, but he kisses Amanda Peet like he means it and he seems to drive a limo like a bat out of hell.
Most of the cast deserve a mention just for their death scenes. Danny Glover: crushed by the Washington Monument. Woody Harrelson: obliterated by a super-volcano. Thomas McCarthy: eaten by a big cog, and completely forgotten by the end of the movie, even though he’d been a perfect step-father to Amanda Peet’s children and in all ways an excellent second husband to her. (Literally, his wife and step-children seem to forget him about five minutes after he dies.) George Segel: killed in a Poseidon Adventure sub-plot. The entire population of L.A., Las Vegas and Washington D.C.: annihilated in the hope someone would find their deaths “awesome”.
By the time a gigantic steel ark is veering towards Mount Everest, you’re either enjoying this nonsense or you’re not. 2012 trades in a kind of porno death hysteria that doesn’t offer a middle ground. The key thing is to enjoy the lunacy of the premise. Roland Emmerich isn’t the go-to guy for psychological realism, or dialogue a human being might say; he’s into cataclysm. People in his movies are like ants trying to evade a magnifying glass. Think: beetles for the legion of cars (and drivers) who meet their doom. You could feel ashamed for whooping at this fun-packed holocaust, but why bother? If one thing is certain: Roland Emmerich has no shame.