The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas that burns like a nuclear furnace (so says They Might Be Giants) and then one day the Sun burped up a huge wave that cooked the Earth’s core, dropping our life expectancy down to zero. Will science save us? Unfortunately, this is not when we build a giant drill to travel into the core to set off directed charges of liquid nitrogen or some such nonsense. No, our goose seems cooked, so politicians and the rich prepare to skip out aboard giant ships while the rest of us scream in terror as we meet our fate by any number of cataclysms described in the scariest parts of the Bible.
As is the case with most ginormous budget disaster movies, 2012 follows the stories of several characters. Some get very little screen time before succumbing to the Godly anger of Roland Emmerich while others form the center of the film around which we watch our world burst into flame. Jackson Curtis (Cusack) is a struggling writer, recently divorced and doing his best to keep a positive relationship with his children alive. Alive would become the watchword later in their story. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a gifted scientist who gathers proof of the world’s imminent demise, presents it to the President of the USA (Danny Glover who is too old for this shit) and sets the gears of human survival in motion. The only thing these two men share is Helmsley’s almost perverse love of Curtis’ book, which he waves around and quotes all throughout the film to the point where you think he has stock in the publishing company.
Each of the two main characters gives you a glimpse of the landscape on drastically different sides of an invisible class barrier of sorts. Curtis, being a middle-class schlub, gets to experience the intense destruction first-hand and only survives by the skin of his teeth and a ridiculous script that has the chaos chasing him and his family within inches for what seems like a half-hour straight. For Helmsley -- who at this point has ingratiated himself with the highest powers of government -- the experience is far cleaner as we watch him say good-bye to dear friends and family and curse his own survival. The counterpoints were enjoyable to observe for the most part, save for when the script writers insisted on reminding us that Helmsley is in man-love with Curtis and begins to wave his book around again. Not necessary at all. They should have just had someone yell “OH GOD...Where’s John Cusack!!??!!” in the background of scenes every ten minutes he was not on screen. It would have been a more subtle reminder.
Honorable mentions in the field of actually acting in peril go to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who conveys a very sympathetic scientist who is tormented by the fact that no one on Earth knows what is about to hit them. He also seems anguished by the fact that earth science, never being exact, puts those around him in peril fairly consistently. You could feel the weight on his shoulders and a feeling that he is completely out of his depth, but coping. Oliver Platt delivers a fantastic performance as a scientist and bureaucrat who seems to be one of the few individuals making the hard decisions, stands unflinching before his actions and cops to them when challenged. It’s nice to see a character like his not completely demonized as scenes get increasingly tense. Actually, quite often, you’ll find yourself agreeing with him.
While 2012 excels with this dose of reality, it also induces mass eye-rolling with Woody Harrelson playing a pirate radio broadcaster who has uncovered the conspiracy to cover up our impending doom and jumps around, shouting into his mic like a complete loon. I hate this character. I’ll always hate this character. I wish Hollywood would stop putting this character into mega-budget movies. Please. It’s dumb. BUT WAIT! We can go ever dumber. Tamara, the Russian mistress to a despicably rich fat man, has a little dog who receives its fair share of screen time. Can’t have a giant American film without stupid dog tricks!! When the moment comes for this little ball of fur to shine, you are sure to hear people guffawing in disbelief. It’s silly, and dare I say, retarded, but at the very least, it is quick.
The most essential thing missing from 2012 is believability. It is not in the fact that such a catastrophic event could happen, but that the characters are actually in danger ... at all. One particular scene has Cusack having a comfortable conversation in the back of a truck, rolling through icy mountains, with no signs of cold wha soever. Other times, while narrowly dodging falling buildings and upturned pieces of ground, Cusack busts out one-liners with eyebrows barely raised to convey his predicament.
To make matters worse, I feel the CGI technology is just not yet up to the task of tackling such widespread pandemonium. The filmmakers are sure to place little tiny humans being flattened, flung skyward, dumped out of the side of toppling buildings, exploded and just plain fleeing in terror whenever a plane was allowed to be close enough to be plausible and not millimeters away from certain death, so we can’t fault them for detail or a level of unflinching horror, but the simple fact is some of it works and some of it is laughable. Of course, if you are going into this just looking to see the world go to hell as violently as possible, then mission accomplished. This may be one of the dumbest disaster films ever made, but they sure do blow up things real good. Now the real test is sitting still for three hours. Be sure not to order the extra large soda.
2012 is a LONG movie and you feel it, even with more action than I can ever recall seeing in a film before and moments I know no one has ever attempted. I fear the fatal flaw lies in a low level of human despair on a believable level, but as said before, if you can ignore that glaring problem, then sit back and soak up the carnage. 2012 has a wow moment just about every half hour, which is a pretty impressive ratio, but with so much insanity around every corner, you may find yourself waving the white flag at the two-hour mark. Just how much global destruction can you handle? Let’s find out.