During his long career as Hollywood’s go to disaster artist, Roland Emmerich has probably toppled more landmarks than the entire Kaiju cast of Destroy All Monsters combined. Whether it’s flash frying The White House in Independence Day or freezing the Big Apple solid in The Day After Tomorrow, the German master of disaster is well versed in literally bringing the house down as he mercilessly homaged the will-they-live-or-die nature of the genre with all-star casts – but what would happen if he didn’t just limit his destructive tendencies to large chunks of the earth? What if he went for the disaster movie gold ring and try to destroy ALL of it in one, massive super-epic that would bring the ending of the Myan calendar to the big screen with all the power CGI could muster? And finally, what if – what IF – it was a bit fucking shit too..?
In India a scientist has discovered a worrying fact that the earth’s neutrino’s have mutated thanks to a solar flare (whatever that means) and the fiery core of our planet is stubbornly getting hotter. Passing it on to his geologist friend Adrian Helmsley, news gets to the American President that some serious shit will go down by the year 2012 so a number of top secret, global projects are launched to get some survival protocols in place before Mother Earth decides to shake off her back like a dog with fleas. While all this rumbles along in the background we get to meet Jackson Curtis, a dissatisfied writer who is juggling a job as a limo driver while trying to stay connected to his estranged family. Because this is a film co-scripted by the same man who gave us an Apple Mac being compatible with alien technology, Jackson manages to piece together that the world is going to end due to him connecting the random dots of the wild ramblings of a janky conspiracy theorist with the shifty behavior of his mega-wealthy Russian boss and immediately gets his ass in gear as the whole of LA starts to do the Boston Shake. Narrowly escaping with his family in a plane flown by his wife’s plastic surgeon boyfriend as the city folds up like a fucking accordion, they rendezvous with the conspiracy nut at a Yellowstone national park which happens to be one atomic-sized detonation away from becoming the world’s largest volcano. After finding out about the secret government plan to save certain people, Jackson and his entourage then manage to bumble into his boss in Vegas who allows them to ride on his bigger plane to China where the rescue craft awaits. However, the massive ships built to carry the last of humanity to survival are only reserved for the super-rich as it was their astronomical entrance fees that paid for the Arks to be built in the first place and Jackson and Co. won’t make the scene if they ain’t got the green.
The problem with being pigeonholed into such an exact genre such as disaster movies, is that once you’ve done three of four of them you’re kind of stuck when it comes to creating anything new – I mean, once you’ve had Washington purged by alien fire, a giant lizard push it’s way through the MetLife building and submerged and then frozen the Statue Of Liberty what can you possibly do to top yourself? This means the first problem with Emmerich’s 2012 is it’s alarming lack of originality leans on the premise that by simply being a greatest hits package of every other movie of the genre is going to be enough. Seriously, in just one movie we have super volcanoes (Dante’s Peak, Volcano), a massive tsunami (The Day After Tomorrow), a flipping ocean liner (Possidon) and numerous scenes of far fetched driving as people successfully speed away from chaotic destruction in vehicles not known for their speed (Godzilla ’98), but it’s all somewhat undone by the fact that you’ve seen it all before. Another major issue is the script coasts along desperately hoping you won’t notice that it’s held together by having it’s lead be luckier than a pair of pants made entirely out of four-leaf clovers. John Cusack’ Jackson literally blindly wanders into every single bit of lazily scripted contrivance you can think of to constantly stay one step ahead of the expensive-looking cataclysm and the film even tries to play off staggering coincidences as plot points early on when a chance meeting with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s heroic geologist turns up that he was one of the rare few who’s actually read his novel.
Still, if you can get past the lack of unoriginal carnage and a plot that connects the dots like an electrode-wired laboratory chimp, then surely 2012 is an undemanding blast, right?
Well… not really, no. You see while the scenes of total devastation are pretty impressive (it’s not everyday you witness the West Coast slide into the ocean like a cautious swimmer) to soon start to see a peculiar pattern emerge with the action sequences as he vast majority of them involves the leads speeding through a gauntlet of destruction in some sort of vehicle. The first time it happens (limo vs. earthquake) is admittedly exciting, as it the second (plane vs. earthquake), but by the third (campervan vs. volcano), fourth (plane vs. volcano) and fifth (cargo plane vs. dust cloud) you realise that Emmerich and company are severely out of ideas.
That’s no to say it’s all bad; Emmerich’s habit of picking hugely watchable actors to stand in front of green screens and gawp carries you through the worst of it with a minimum of wincing and it’s genuinely nice to see Danny Glover feature as POTUS even if he is spectacularly wiped out by a tsunami dunking an aircraft carrier onto the White House like it was an elemental Michael Jordan.
Casual watchers and disaster movie completists may get the most out of this diverting epic but it’s monolithic running time will undoubtedly test the most durable of posteriors and the film ends with a rather hilariousy disturbing message the filmmakers may not have considered. You see, thanks to their donations, virtually the whole of the world’s richest 1% guaranteed to survive along with the couple of hundred people that’s stowed away on a quartet of massive super-ships that blatantly don’t have enough food or lodgings to go round. This leads me to believe that everyone involved is ultimately destined to be put into a Snowpiecer type situation where a punishing class war will force the poorer people to live like animals… or maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, Emmerich’s disaster movie swansong (for now) is a merely a shadow of epics past and such as it is stands on ironically shakey ground.