With 2012 you got your big special effects, you got your overwrought melodrama, you got your colorful supporting characters, a passel of kids of varying cuteness, outrageous puns, and a plucky dog. What you got here is blockbuster of a popcorn flick that delivers on ending the world as we know it and takes a respectable 2 hours and 40 minutes or so to do so. Roland Emmerich, a director known for pulling out all the stops, has done so here and then some. He also destroys the White House again, though its not quite as cool as the way did in INDEPENDENCE DAY.
The end of the world takes its cue from the Mayan calendar that ends abruptly and precisely on December 21, 2012. The specifics of why it ends are courtesy of one of those colorful supporting characters, Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a furry mountain-man of a hippie with a conspiracy bent, a weakness for pickles, and his own cult following courtesy of the radio show he broadcasts from his motor home. He explains it all, via puckish animation, to Jackson Curtis (Jon Cusak), including the secret space ships that the governments of the world are building to save a select few from the apocalypse. Jackson, an author of merit but poor sales, has run into Charlie while attempting to re-bond with his children via a camping trip to Yellowstone Park as a way for making it up to them about he and their mother, Kate (Amanda Peet), splitting up. It didnt go well, he forgot the bug spray and the military detained them after Jackson ignored the no trespassing signs at what had at one time been a lake. It’s now boiling sludge, not unlike the prickly relationship between Jackson and his ex-wife. And the one between Jackson and son Noah (Liam James), who seems to prefer Mom’s new boyfriend, Gordon (Tom McCarthy), the plastic surgeon with a yen to fly. That last will come in handy, and very soon, in one of the many lucky breaks Jackson racks up, including that informative brush with Charlie, as he attempts to save his family, and Gordon, when the Mayan prophecy starts coming true with a vengeance. Jackson may not be able to protect hid kids from becoming mosquito fodder, but when it counts, he comes through. And then he comes through again. And then again.
It’s that kind of movie.
The writing could be a lot worse. While jazz musicians Blu Mankuma and George Segal crooning something entitled “It’s Not the End of the World” during their gig on a cruise ship is painfully obvious, and their subplot painfully extraneous, there is a tart and knowing wink to the audience about Gordon telling Kate that he feels something has come between them just as the ground literally opens up in the grocery store aisle where the find themselves. It’s also a more than usually elegant way to execute an abundance of product placement. It’s also more than usually elegant with all the character placement. There is the sad-eyed scientist (Chiwitel Ejiofor) who longs to preserver humankind’s humanity as well as its gene pool. The solemn President of the United States (Danny Glover), who informs the world’s leaders during a G8 conference that the world is ending. There’s his lovely daughter (Thandie Newton), who was busy preserving the world’s art treasures when she began to suspect that there was something afoot more nefarious than she was led to believe. There’s the wildly wealthy Russian with the arm-candy girlfriend and twin sons who are chubby but not cherubic. true-believer in realpolitik (Oliver Platt), who isn’t afraid to take the reins of power when necessary. They’ll all more of less meet up as the world ends in one dazzling showpiece after another.
Make no mistake. They are dazzling. All the moreso for having science on their side. It takes 50 minutes for the first one, that would be Los Angeles falling into the ocean, but it’s worth the wait. Jackson negotiates streets that are turning into so many mini-tsunamis as he ferries his family, and Gordon, to the waiting plane (don’t ask), which Gordon then steers through tumbling high-rises. It’s half that time to Yellowstone, the location of an actual, if currently dormant, super-volcano. It explodes with fiery abandon, lobbing fireballs, windstorms, and an ash cloud with serious attitude. From there it’s one increasingly rambunctious peril after another up to and including a close encounter with Mt Everest. The action doesn’t let up until the very, very last five minutes, with Emmerich and company milking every situation for all it’s worth.
2012 is big, noisy, and, well, fun. Theres a dash of Tibetan mysticism, a soupcon of comeuppances, and the point of the exercise, one family discovering what is really important. Take it for what it is and leave logic to fend for itself.