Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Tom McCarthy, Liam James, Morgan Lily, George Segal, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, John Billingsley, Stephen McHattie, Patrick Bauchau, Jimi Mistry.
Why do we need to worry about global warming when the end of the world is nigh? According to popular lore, the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end much sooner – December 21, 2010 to be precise. At least that is the premise that drives this latest special effects driven blockbuster from German-born director Roland Emmerich (Universal Soldier, etc).
Emmerich certainly loves his spectacular large-scale disaster movies. In Independence Day he had the world attacked by aliens; then he went against the current concerns of global warming to sink the planet into a new Ice Age in The Day After Tomorrow. Now he ups the ante and brings us the ultimate disaster – the end of the world in spectacular fashion. Based on myths from the Mayan calendar, spurious science and Biblical prophecies, Emmerich’s film gives us a preview of what the end of the world will be like. Massive earthquakes devastate Los Angeles and much of the west coast of America, iconic buildings and landmarks bite the dust, Yellowstone National Park becomes a massive active volcano, and tsunamis wipe out much of the planet.
But the massive catastrophe forms the backdrop to a more personal story of survival and redemption. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is a divorced struggling novelist moonlighting as a chauffeur in Los Angeles. On a camping holiday at Yellowstone National Park with his two children he encounters a paranoid radio announcer (Woody Harrelson), who espouses his views on the forthcoming end of the world. It is only when his seemingly far fetched predictions begin to come true that Curtis is moved to act and try to rescue his estranged family. Curtis believes that an elite of the world’s most powerful and wealthy though have been preparing for this day for several years now, and are secretly making their way to the Himalayas near China, where a number of technologically advanced “arks” await to shelter them. As they make their way toward China Curtis’ family reluctantly join forces with a blustering Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric), his twin sons and his mistress.
However, most of the characters here are one-dimensional pawns to be sacrificed, and it’s hard to really care about any of them. Emmerich has assembled a strong cast to flesh out the characters.
Cusack brings his usual sense of nobility and everyman quality to his role as the hero of the piece, and he acquits himself well with the more physical aspects of his role. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings dignity to his role as scientific adviser Adrian Helmsley, who first alerts the US government to the impending disaster. And Oliver Platt is also very good as Carl Anheuser the smarmy, self-interested Presidential chief of staff intent on saving his own skin no matter what the cost in lives. Danny Glover is also quite good as Thomas Wilson, the selfless President of the United States who acts to save his daughter (Thandie Newton).
The CGI-generated special effects and pyrotechnics are truly spectacular, but not always convincing. Skyscrapers collapse, massive tidal waves flatten the White House, and earthquakes devastate large areas of real estate. Along the way Emmerich liberally borrows many of the clichés from numerous classic disaster movies of the ‘70’s, most notably The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake.
While not a masterpiece, 2012 is certainly a lot of fun, and this cheesy B-flick is one of the year’s biggest guilty pleasures. The film is laced with plenty of inadvertent, tongue-in-cheek humour. And it’s much better than Emmerich’s previous film, the risible pre-historical drama 10,000 BC. 2012’s massive 158 minutes seem to fly by!