For director Roland Emmerich, it isnt enough to destroy the world once (e.g. in Independence Day) or even twice (as he did in The Day After Tomorrow); he had to come back and do it all again in 2012. But then if you are Master of the Apocalypse, there is simply no one else qualified. Dont worry, at two and a half hours running time, you sure get lots of bang of your buck.
According to the Mayan calendar, the current cycle of the world is due to end on 21 December 2012. In 2009, the presidents chief science adviser, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) becomes concerned about the effects of powerful solar flares. The suns neutrino rays are melting the Earths core from the inside out, causing the Earths crust to crumble like a cookie and disappear under floodwaters that threaten cover the earth. Together with the President, Thomas Wilson (a grave-looking Danny Glover), his Chief of Staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and other world leaders, they put in place a plan to save humankind.
Representing the everyman is a scruffy, failed writer and part-time limo driver, Jackson Curtis, played by the wise-cracking John Cusack. He is estranged from this children (Noah and Lily) and his ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet) who has now shacked up with a successful cosmetic surgeon, Gordon (Tom McCarthy). This new archetypal all-American family are flung together in the ultimate journey across the world for survival.
This film has pretty everything you could think of: planes (small, medium, large and Air Force One), trains, limos, supercars, caravans, cruise-liners and super-ships. Then there are earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and more water than you could point a fish at; and not forgetting almost every terrain and weather condition from the sweltering heat of monsoon India to the snow-covered mountains of Tibet. After all this is Emmerichs third disaster movie, so he may as well make sure hes done it all – literally.
The cast is impressive in calibre and number. It feels like there are hundreds of characters: Thandie Newton is the presidents daughter and potential love interest for Chiwetel Ejiofor; Woody Harrelson gives a fabulously over-the-top performance as the crack-pot prophet of doom; and Jimi Mistry makes a brief appearance as a brilliant India scientist and friend of Helmsley. Then there is Cusacks Russian billionaire boss, his surgically enhanced teenage girlfriend, a pair of old Jazz singers, a Beckham-lookalike Russian pilot, a Tibetan monk, an odd-ball collection of scientists, the German Chancellor, a Russian president and an Arnold Scharzenegger doppelganger. All the characters are linked in some way and they each have their little back stories. It is like Emmerich tried to put in as much inconsequential plot as possible just to cover up all the glaring inconsistencies.
The cataclysmic chaos that we see is weirdly beautiful and thrilling but this is what Emmerich does best: he makes total destruction glamorous. He smashes up the city of LA like ripples on a pond and tosses around tiny CGI cars like salad tomatoes with such style and panache it almost doesnt matter that its all clichd and ridiculous. Its cheesy stuff but it works.
Oddly enough, it isnt the computer graphics that are unconvincing; it is the absurd action-adventure style romance between John Cusack and Amanda Peet. The rekindled emotions seem so trivial and unoriginal in comparison to the ingenuity of the VFX visuals. But then watching 2012 is an exercise in creativity and imagination… for the viewer. You have to take a leap of faith. At points, the story is so impossible and so divorced from reality that it is like watching a computer game – not because the visuals are unrealistic but because the situations are so ridiculous that it is impossible to take seriously.
Nevertheless 2012 is really funny – perhaps not as it was intended to be though. It doesnt offer any profound philosophical or moral insights but every so often there is a little nudge to real world politics. There is a black president, a female German Chancellor, and a largely absent Italian premier. They act as gentle servings of political comment to make the audience feel smart enough to have got the reference. Interestingly, although Queen (with corgis in tow) makes an appearance, neither Brown nor Blair get a mention. And how exactly does Africa, Asia and the Middle East get left out of the equation?
For disaster flick aficionados, 2012 will be just the ticket. Theres a bit of Earthquake, a bit of Volcano and even a bit of Titanic all topped off with lots of Roland Emmerichs own brand of cheesy fun. For anyone looking for something more cerebrally challenging – dont even bother leaving the house. This is strictly light-headed, wild-hearted entertainment.