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’2012′: You want apocalypse? You GOT apocalypse.

Some movies speak for themselves. One such movie is 2012, which comes billed as the end of the world, Roland Emmerich style. This review could simply state “Roland Emmerich destroys the world for real this time” and that would probably be sufficient. If you’ve seen any of his other movies, you know more or less what to expect from Emmerich. And since you know what CGI effects are capable of in 2009, you can probably predict what the destruction of earth circa 2012 might look like.

2012
An airplane flies through the collapsing L.A. skyline — the first of many things that Roland Emmerich destroys in his latest world-ender, “2012.”

And since you’ve seen the trailers, you know what you’re buying going in. The only question here is whether 2012 delivers what you expect respectably and entertainingly, or whether it’s a cliche-ridden, implausible, over-the-top exercise in gratuitous mayhem.

Well, why can’t it be both? I submit that’s exactly what it is. 2012 is what it is: a spectacular popcorn disaster epic that appeals to a mass PG-13 audience. It’s a special effects thrill ride that will not be particularly disturbing or depressing. How can “the end of the world” not be depressing, you ask? I wouldn’t presume to give away the ending, but like all Emmerich mass-consumable destruction opuses, this one comes with a certain tempered conclusion to make all the world-ending that transpires over 150 minutes somehow seem okay, if you see what I mean. Never mind that untold billions have perished. This movie is not about who dies, it’s about who survives!

Things are always darkest before the dawn. In 2012, that means earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, the shifting of the earth’s crust leading to the complete realignment of all the continents, the reversal of the magnetic poles, and a flood not pictured in Noah’s worst nightmares. At one point, someone mentions that the north pole is now the south pole, and that it’s located at Wisconsin. You don’t hear that in a movie every day.

I confess: I liked it. 2012 works on its chosen level of largest natural-disaster picture of all time. You want shit blowing up? You GOT shit blowing up, awesomely. You want it filtered through a Hollywood dysfunctional-family storyline in order to make it a palatable human movie rather than a documentary about destruction? Why not: We’ve got John Cusack playing the divorced everyman dad, with two kids who like their stepfather better than him. The question isn’t whether the stepfather’s days are numbered, but what page of the script he’s gonna die on.

And do you want a government perspective to provide a “what if” hypothetical that just-plausibly-enough looks at how a crisis of world-ending proportions might possibly be handled? You got it: Here’s Danny Glover as the president, Thandie Newton as his daughter, a geologist adviser played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the always-reliable Oliver Platt playing the part of the cynical amoralist bureaucrat you think you’ll inevitably end up hating, if not for the fact that, well, he’s just so damned pragmatic and right all the time.

Could the world’s governments keep the secret that they keep here for three years? Not a chance. Could they successfully undertake a project like this in silence, or for that matter, at all? No freaking way. And if they could, why are they allowing the crazy guy played by Woody Harrelson to broadcast his radio show from ground zero?

Yes, there are scenes here that are laughable. One involves the fate of a stupid dog as thousands of screaming people seem doomed. I swear to you this scene is played out as if we honestly cared about the dog’s fate. Maybe somebody did. I sure didn’t. I’m also certain this scene was meant as tongue-in-cheek irony, simply because no filmmaker could possibly be sincere about such an obvious and ridiculous cliche. Laugh I was surely meant to, and laugh I did.

But this movie is also suitably involving. The destruction is spectacular, and the characters — however hackneyed — serve their purpose and imbue the narrative with enough emotion and humanity to keep the enterprise from being a hollow exercise.

One thing is certain: I can abide a mayhem epic like 2012 — even at 2 1/2 hours — far more than I can an unwatchable mess like Transformers 2. Say what you will about the shortcomings of 2012; at least you can see what happens and feel involved in the action, no matter how prolonged. (Yes, the movie is too long and wears out its welcome. But it is not boring.)

The movie delivers what it promised — sound and fury and convincingly gargantuan FX — but it actually looks and feels like a movie with characters and a story, instead of a 150-minute trailer for itself. And if it seems like I’m praising this movie for not being Tranformers 2 — well, so be it. The difference is that one movie features destruction within a context and action you can follow, and the other does not.

There’s a scene in both films involving the destruction of an aircraft carrier. In Transformers 2, it was arbitrary, unnecessary, gratuitous, inconsequential, and had nothing to do with anything. In 2012, it wasn’t exactly necessary, but at least it had a certain ironic edge to it, and involved characters that mattered to the story.

Hey, this isn’t a great movie. But as an FX-driven crowd-pleaser featuring every natural disaster in the book and a screenplay that must traffic in all the disaster cliches that were invented in every disaster movie before this one — well, this is about as good as I can imagine it being done.

Rating out of 4: ***


27 Comments
  1. Latex Zebra - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - 4:42 am

    I am really loooking forward to seeing this. I know I will love it and hate in equal measures, love the FX, hate the cheese.
    As long as that balance is ok then it will be 2 and half hours of my life not wasted.

  2. Brendan - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - 4:53 pm

    Couldnt agree more, glad to see someone out there sees it my way. The critics are blasting it, friends are bemoaning it as boring and stupid…. it hurts! Because I loved it. Really. Yes it could stand to be about 30 mins shorter (the last act was stretched and the thing with the door being stuck open was just annoying). But it’s probably the least bored I’ve ever been for a 2.5 hour movie… and in parts it was the most entertaining cinematic experience I’ve ever had.

    I don’t get why people go into a movie like this and decry the fact that it has many of the drawbacks expected in this genre of film. It’s like complaining about the implausibility of vampires as a criticism for Twilight. (I could think of many more valid criticisms of that garbage)

  3. Alex - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 9:45 am

    Out of review practice? Your standards are noticeably dropping.

  4. Jammer - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 10:36 am

    ^ Not sure what you mean here. Is the writing not up to par or are you just making fun of the fact that I liked the movie?

  5. Poltargyst - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 12:03 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie, so I have a question:

    Does the movie deal at all with Mayan religious beliefs? I mean the whole deal with the world ending in 2012 is because the Mayan calendar suddenly ends in that year. If the movie doesn’t get into that, then that’s a disappointment for me. Then it becomes just a let’s-show-a-bunch-of-stuff-blowing-up-for-no-particular-reason movie, and it would seem to be a big waste to call it 2012. If there’s no talk of Mayan beliefs, then why does it matter what year it happens in? This could be the subject of a lot of intelligent movie-making.

    LOL, or am I just asking way too much of a disaster movie?

  6. Jammer - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 2:00 pm

    The Mayans and the Mayan calendar are mentioned. Their religious beliefs, not so much. The extent to which the movie discusses the Mayans is along the lines of someone saying “The Mayans predicted this thousands of years ago! They were right!” Beyond that, the actual end of the world is explained in sci-fi terms, as a result of the sun’s radiation causing the internal heating of the Earth’s core, leading to the disturbance (to put it mildly) of the Earth’s crust and thus continental shifting and Lots of Really Bad Stuff.

  7. Alex - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 10:09 am

    Just messing with you because I found the movie rather lame.

  8. Jammer - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 10:57 am

    It seems people are split on the movie. I was fully prepared for it to be lame but found that I enjoyed it quite a bit. [curb]Having said that[/curb], it was really too long. No need for it to be that long.

  9. Eduardo - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 12:39 pm

    Even Emmerich admitted the whole Mayan connection was more of a marketing ploy devoid of any actual connection to the actual story. I find it curious that technobabble ended up being the reason behind Earth’s near-destruction. The sun releases neutrino particles. It sounds like a Star Trek plot device, but it works.

    Much like Day after Tomorrow and Independence Day, what makes 2012 work are the personal stories. Even though the arbitrary deaths are easy to predict (killing the russian dad and the stepdad were a given), the characters are portrayed convincingly enough to make it work. I enjoyed Thomas McCarthy as the stepdad. He played well off John Cusack and Amanda Peet. Thandie Newton didn’t have a lot to do, but felt like Glover’s daughter, and like Ejiofor’s potential love interest. Woody Harrelson was also a highlight. I’m glad Emmerich still knows to include actors who deliver a less-than-serious tone to this kind of story.

    What dragged the film down was mostly the second act (necessary to get Cusack to China), and parts of the third act as well. The whole plot to ignite the ship’s engines felt a bit forced.

    I really enjoyed it, despite a feeling of being there/done that. Emmerich always manages to grab my attention with his approach to this genre.

  10. JackBauer - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 6:18 pm

    Garbage.

    Too much build up. Too much BS, and when the world starts falling apart it gets really cliche. At least ID4 got to the point, and quick. This movie drug on and on with silly Americana nonsense for over an hour before it started killing people.

    And how apt that the start of the human race begins again in Africa (ala BSG) Does everyone beleive humanity started in Africa?

  11. Antisocialmunky - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 8:55 pm

    The movie is actually a rip off of a book about neutrinos causing the crust to decouple form the mantle and the governments of the work build giant ships to save everyone.

    It sounds like the Speed Racer movie where it exceeded my expectations because I went into the thing with realistic expectations of the movie being mediocre – crap.

  12. Jammer - Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 9:48 pm

    I saw Speed Racer on cable one weekend when I had time to kill. It was terrible. It struck me as the nail in the coffin of the directing career of the Wachowski Brothers.

  13. JackBauer - Friday, November 27, 2009 - 10:09 am

    I would have thought that the 3rd Matrix movie, and its non ending would have been the end of the Wachowski Brothers.

  14. Eduardo - Monday, November 30, 2009 - 12:41 pm

    I actually thought Matrix ended perfectly, leaving possibilities and freewill available again. It would probably have worked better if the second and third movies were a single one. The story feels more cohesive if you watch them back-to-back.

    V for Vendetta was also a nice adaptation of an Alan Moore novel. McTeigue may have directed it, but it was still very much a Wachowski movie.

  15. Jim - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 3:36 am

    The cheeziest part is how utterly personal the tendrils of disaster are–We had chasms yawning open, highways and buildings crumbling, all 1/2 inch from our heroes’ lily white derriers. Ah well, it’s a time honored tradition. It worked with the damsel in distress bound to the train tracks.

    The movie seemed schizophrenic though. I groaned when a character would utter a hamhanded sort of pun, with the punchline delivered by an act of nature. (“Something always comes between us.” CRA-A-AAAA-AAACK) On the other hand, a cliche I wanted to see, didn’t play out, as the old guy who called to reconcile with his son.

    As for Speed Racer, I went into it expecting magic and retro memories, color and full sensory stimulus. Each character (except for Trixie) fit their cartoon namesakes to a “tee.” I was amused by the fight scenes. I liked the hint of the Mammoth Car. I loved the variations of the theme song. I tolerated another “evil big corporation” message. I walked away without seeing Homing Pigeon and a few other features. I may have to surrender my Comic Book ‘Fan Card,’ but last summer, I’d rather have seen Speed Racer a second time, than Iron Man, Hulk, or absolutely that Joker movie.

  16. Dimitris Kiminas - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 4:18 am

    Hi Jammer,

    I know I’m off-subject, but can you give us any news on when the next TNG reviews appear? What’s their ETA? (I hope it’s not 2012! :)

    Best Regards,
    Dimitris

  17. Kenneth - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 6:45 am

    Glad to see another review from you. I, too, thought it was fun entertainment!

  18. Gisele - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 9:03 am

    This movie is pretty bad but having seen countless movies of this type, maybe I”m jaded, I don’t know. I would have given it a mark of “fair” at best or 2 stars. The only reason for any stars as well would be the f/x.

  19. mouse - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 11:03 am

    I’ll probably care about the dog when I finally get to see it. I like most dogs better than I like most people. Still sounds like a funny scene though (in the rational part of my brain that realizes I’m nuts). I’m a sucker for some good disaster cheese.

  20. Jim - Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 11:37 pm

    Dimitris, I wonder if you just gave Jammer a (reminder for a) Christmas break project.

  21. Sam - Friday, December 4, 2009 - 3:52 am

    When’s ‘The Road’ coming to my city, darnit? That one’s the real deal.

  22. AR - Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 9:12 pm

    It was actually kinda funny towards the middle when the movie devolved into schadenfreude on steroids, as Emmerich basically spent 45 minutes sadistically running through his checklist of characters he hadn’t killed off yet. I could almost hear him cackling in the background: “What…you survived the earthquakes? Here’s a black ash cloud of doom. Whats that? Still kicking? LOL TSUNAMI!!!! Watch that rolling action as this dome bowls over the faithful – your prayers will not be answered! Oh I’m sorry minor character, did I forget you were still breathing? Here’s a wall of water for you too.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

    On the other hand, almost every non-disaster related scene was dreadfully boring – or ultimately meaningless since the characters just end up getting swept away by Emmerich’s LOLwave anyway – and nearly everything prior to the first mega-quake, and between the door jamming and the epilogue could’ve been cut out, and it would not have been missed. All in all, not the worst way to waste 2 !/2 hrs, but in hindsight I probably should’ve waited for it to come out on DVD on the cheap.

  23. just some dude - Thursday, December 10, 2009 - 11:12 pm

    FX where great, the story on the other hand CORNY.

  24. Eric Dugdale - Sunday, January 3, 2010 - 2:28 pm

    I found the movie entertaining and hillarious. Has anyone else here seen The Core? Well, this is The Core 2.0: Awful unscience, cliche characters, yet all quite entertaining, and definitely laughable. Hell, I’m in geology, and I still found it fun.

  25. Elliot Wilson - Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 4:56 pm

    Do you like the movie Speed? Just curious.

    I haven’t seen 2012, but I probably will — I’m almost ashamed to admit — I’ve got a crush on one of the actors who are in it. I’m not saying who, because I am a realist and know it will never happen, but hey, my life, my right. I can dream all I want. Does sound interesting though, but the bit about the dog had me laughing.

  26. Jammer - Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 8:11 pm

    Speed was one of the best action movies of the 1990s.

  27. Latex Zebra - Friday, January 20, 2012 - 8:49 am

    One of my favourite disaster movies ever.
    I watch this all the time now, fast forwarding through the nonsense and just watching the World get blowed up real good… Sorry Jammer.

    Can watch the whole thing in an hour. ;o)

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