2012 review

Roland Emmerich blows the world up again, as his latest effects opus, 2012, proves to be his best film since Independence Day...

Be warned, the apocalypse is nigh! Three years from now, untold disaster will strike. Human civilisation will come crashing down and the world as we know it wil shatter under the weight of our vanities. Our cities will crumble, as our culture grinds itself to dust and mass hysteria consumes the last paltry scraps of social sustainability.

No, it’s not the London Olympics. It’s just the end of the world as we know it, Roland Emmerich style (again), which means a big, brash and thoroughly OTT cataclysm, with lashing of nature’s fury, needless suffering, disaster-porn eye candy and loads of global landmarks being smashed to smithereens.

2012‘s premise is based on an old Mayan prophecy that the world will end on the 21st of December 2012. Apparently, various (unnamed) ‘numerologists and geologists’ have given credence to the theory, which, basically, amounts to old Gaia finally waking up and kicking some serious human behind. Emmerich interprets this using sunspots and ‘super neutrinos’ boiling the Earth’s core, leading to all sorts of seismic shenanigans within the planet’s tectonic plates.

The intention is to create the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, meteor showers and the magnetic displacement of the poles, it’s all here, in a veritable orgy of über-destruction. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, this really is amps-up-to-eleven filmmaking. Someone’s going to have to get pretty inventive to top the sheer volume of carnage on display here.

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Following on from German director Emmerich’s previous disaster epics, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 uses his trademark devices of multi-stranded, parallel narratives and big name ensemble casts to create an over-arching view of the catastrophe as it unfolds.

Leading the way is John Cusack as Jackson Curtis, a failed science fiction writer and limousine driver, who has to save his family from the devastation. Chiwetel Ejiofor displays his usual excellence as Adrian Helmsley, the government adviser who first uncovers the threat of global meltdown,while Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson both add colour as the pragmatic US Chief of Staff and loopy conspiracy theorist/pirate radio DJ, respectively. Harrelson, in particular, is a real scene-stealer, going through his wide-eyed manic routine with relish.

Another continuing theme of Emmerich’s disaster trilogy, of which 2012 is the third instalment, is his representation of the American presidency. So, while in Independence Day we had a squared-jaw Bill Clinton-alike and the thinly veiled Dick Cheney attack in The Day After Tomorrow, it comes as no great surprise that in the Obama era he has cast a black man as the president. Step forward Danny Glover, with Thandie Newton as his daughter.

After running through the initial set-up, the film really kicks on about 20 minutes in. Cusack’s frantic escape through the crumbling streets of LA, first by car, then by plane, is absolutely astounding. The levels of stunt coordination and lavish CG work on display are certainly the most impressive I have ever seen. You may even start feeling nauseous, as your eyes relentlessly track across the screen in an effort to keep up with the unfolding action. As far as pure spectacle goes, it doesn’t get any better than this.

However, Emmerich fails to ever match the pure kinetic adrenaline rush of these twin sequences again. And after two more hours of skyscrapers collapsing, tidal waves consuming cities and the ground generally being torn asunder, the slightest sniff of one trick pony-ism does start to permeate. Still, it is a one hell of a trick.

When the deeper story does start to unfold, Emmerich goes into his customary narrative overdrive, incessantly heaping perilous situation on situation, in the hope of blinding the audience to the glaring plot holes and all round ridiculousness of the global coalition’s contingency plan.  On one hand, it’s a master class of Hollywood scriptwriting, on the other, total hokum. But then anyone going to a Roland Emmerich movie expecting to see Citizen Kane really does need their head examined anyway.

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This, then, really is the key to enjoying 2012: to approach it with a giant pinch of salt and just switch your brain off while your eyes enjoy the ride.

Roland Emmerich films are always unashamedly guilty pleasures, the abysmal 10,000 BC apart, full of pastiche characterisation, clunky dialogue and blanket absurdity. What they do deliver, though, is first class escapism and pure event cinema par excellence.

For a film so hotwired for the summer blockbuster season to be released in November is an oddity. I have to admit, I feared the worst. But 2012 confounded my scepticism, and produced a far more enjoyable night out than a lot of 2009’s other big hitters. Maybe the release was delayed because some of the shots were not ready? If that is the case, it certainly shows in the final product, because 2012 has set a new high watermark for CG graphics.

Yes, it’s dumb, but accept 2012 for what it is – a two-and-a-half hour balls out moneyshot – and you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face.


4 out of 5