When the end of the world finally comes, you can be relatively certain that somewhere in the æther Roland Emmerich will be taking notes and comparing it to his œuvre. (And yes, I’m very proud I was able to use both “æ” and “œ” in one sentence, thank you for noticing.) His films are destruction pornography for anarchists: there’s a brief, plot-thin, badly-acted intro, a few uncomfortable moments of fumbling around, and the next thing you know the pool boy is naked and the Earth is being death-humped by aliens. And like porn, they are exciting, entertaining in the way you expect, and leave you feeling a little dirty afterward.
The plot of 2012 is slipped in (pardon the pun) in the refractory periods between the orgiastic destruction sequences, and involves an imperfect hero with an estranged family, a brilliant scientist trying to force morality on the people in power, and a fringe-faction nutjob who actually knows the truth of the coming apocalypse. And yes, I did just summarize ID4, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow as well; consider it a 4-for-1 sale on plot summaries. In fact, I’m willing to bet real money that I could have filled out that synopsis a year ago. For that matter I probably just summarized the next two Emmerich movies, most of Michael Crichton’s library, and the dustjacket blurb of my forthcoming best seller, Explosions! subtitled: BOOOOM!
It ostensibly stars The Cusack as the middle-aged progression of the Cusack character from Every John Cusack Movie Ever Made. I think he’s tailor-made for the part. It also features The Mumble King as the tragically heroic US President, Thandie Newton as his estranged daughter, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the aforementioned scientist. Let’s see, there’s also Oliver Platt as the ambitious-as-a-pejorative cabinet member, Woody Harrelson as the Wyoming-class nutjob, and Amanda Peet as The Cusack’s long-suffering ex WHO SECRETLY STILL LOVES HIM. I know, shocker, right? There’s at least six more characters that have substantial screen time that I’m not going to even bother mentioning. The thing about 2012, though, is that while the actors just serve as intermissions between the moments of hot-tectonic-plate action, they all actually turn in reasonably decent performances. I realize The Cusack can get on people’s nerves as he plays the same character over and over (and over and over), but I’ve always found him to be an entertaining presence to spend a few hundred minutes with.
People are always eager to rag on guys like Emmerich, Bay, and Sommers, saying that they’re no-talent hacks that recycle the same plot every few years and just re-release it as SFX technology improvements warrant. While this is true to a point (see paragraph 2, above), people lose sight of how difficult it is to make a bona fide blockbuster that fulfills the expectations of fans of the genre. There is a real art to pacing a blockbuster, to generating suspense in the face of the inevitable happy ending. Up until now, I’d always been a Bay man for movies like this, feeling that even his weakest offerings still had that ineffably epic quality that you look for in a blockbuster. After seeing 2012 though, I’ve switched allegiances.
This movie makes Transformers 2 seem almost arthaus. This is the blockbuster perfected, as though it sprang fully-formed from the head of Zeus, or possibly Spielberg. There are a half dozen scenes of cars narrowly avoiding being crushed, at least four scenes of various planes narrowly avoiding destruction as they attempt to takeoff or land, two separate scenes involving digital timers counting down, several “is he dead OMG HE’S NOT DEAD” scenes, and four separate final-goodbye telephone calls that, I’ll be honest, had me tearing up. Manipulative? Sure. Did it work? Definitely.
So would I recommend this movie? Yes. And no. It really depends on what you’re looking for. If you go in expecting to be surprised, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you go in knowing that you already know the story and the characters, and are just looking for the prurient thrill of an orgasm of destruction, well, then this is the porno for you.
Tags: 2012, 4-star, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Godzilla, ID4, Michael Bay, Michael Crichton, Oliver Platt, Roland Emmerich, SFX, Spielberg, Stephen Sommers, Thandie Newton, The Cusack, The Day After Tomorrow, The Mumble King, Transformers, Woody Harrelson