The meek shall inherit the earth.
Truthfully, Roland Emmerich's latest exercise in cinematic excess, the Mayan-calendar based "2012," is a rather psychotically joyous mumbo jumbo of doomsday theology, ancient philosophy, pop psychology and Hollywood cliche' crossed with bits and pieces from virtually every larger than life disaster action flick you've ever seen since the early days of those old and cheesy "Airport" flicks.
You wanna know what's really weird? For much of the film's godawful long 158-minute runtime, Emmerich actually makes it all work if you're willing to suspend intellect and simply go along with the far too coincidental lunacy of it all.
In "2012," about a dozen key characters and billions of ill-fated extras prepare to meet their maker when U.S. geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers that the Earth has rather rapidly become subject to a sort of solar meltdown that is displacing the Earth's crust.
"It's kind of galling when you realize the nutbags with the cardboard signs had it right," declares Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), chief of staff for U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover). We quickly learn, however, that leaders of the United States and dozens of other countries have been aware of the pending catastrophe. It simply arrives much quicker than expected, triggering a global plan to evacuate thousands of selected individuals in what essentially amounts to modern-day versions of the "ark," from biblical times.
While a film such as "2012" is never about the story, it's hard not to admire Emmerich's ability to blend in a sense of melodramatic humanity smack dab in the midst of the destruction of Los Angeles, the toppling of the Eiffel Tower, mountains becoming molehills and the list goes on and on and on. Central to the storyline is the presence of Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a largely failed writer whose marriage to Kate (Amanda Peet) has crumbled in the wake of his irresponsible ways leaving in its path two obviously traumatized kids (Morgan Lily and Liam James), the eldest whom has taken a liking to mom's new husband (Tom McCarthy).
Is there any doubt all of their paths will cross in the most destructive of ways?
While Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser, who worked together on the ridiculously inaccurate "10,000 B.C.," add nice touches of humanity to the entire proceedings, let's not pretend for a single moment that "2012" is anything resembling a dramatic feature film. Virtually every dramatic interaction feels and looks presented with a wink and a grin, especially Glover's amusingly awful presidential profundities that are presented with an obligatory hushed tone of importance and reverence that are almost impossible to not giggle right through. Similarly, Emmerich always finds the opportunity for ill-timed romantic interludes in the midst of global calamity and tragedy.
I sure hope if I'm ever in the position of heading off for a suicide mission to save the world that I have a few minutes to spare for the mandatory romantic kiss, confession and cuddle moments.
Unlike "10,000 B.C.," which was sheer lunacy and badly acted by leads Steven Strait and Camilla Belle, "2012" is actually blessed with a talented ensemble cast including supporting players such as Woody Harrelson, joyously chewing scenery as a nutbag with a radio show, Zlatko Buric, as a smarmy, asshole of a Russian billionaire, and the underrated Jimi Mistry as an Indian scientist working with Helmsley.
While even devotees of 2012 theories aren't even likely to find much to satisfy their intellect here, fans of ridiculously broad action flicks are likely to delight in the imagery Emmerich captures onscreen, ranging from the sheer excitement of the Curtis family's utterly impossible escape from Los Angeles to the rather eerie imagery of when their escape takes to the air as skyscrapers crumble all around them.
This, strangely enough, brings to the forefront a bit of a caution for those who continue to be troubled by 9/11 imagery and memories. "2012" contains such massive imagery of global destruction that scene after scene will undoubtedly evoke images and flashbacks of the falling of the World Trade Center and, in one particularly disturbing scene, the unforgettable image of an airplane flying into the towers. Even as a Hoosier sitting safely in the Midwestern United States, these scenes brought to mind the powerful events of September 11, 2001 and those with personal experiences would do well to prepare themselves for such powerful scenes of destruction.
While the humanity contained within "2012" offered a welcome human connection within the often overwhelming CGI imagery, it also felt rather irrelevant by film's end as "2012" leaves behind thousands of survivors, but billions of fatalities, and only shards of hope amidst global calamity and destruction. Unlike the relatively smaller scope flicks such as "Godzilla" and "Independence Day," "2012" is built upon such a monumental scale that individual survivors and successes feel rather gratuitous.
As one might expect, tech credits for "2012" are truly the film's selling point and they are wondrous indeed with the possible exception of, strangely enough, the film's oceanic scenes that feel and look so manufactured and manipulated that it's difficult to surrender to them, both in the Los Angeles destruction scenes and in the closing moments of "2012."
For what it is, escapist fun capitalizing on new millennium technology, "2012" is a fairly satisfying, larger than life throwback to virtually every disaster film you've seen since the 1970's. Behind Emmerich's endlessly imaginative imagery and willingness to destroy anything, "2012" is the sort of guilty pleasure movie critics hate to admit they enjoyed and American audiences line up to see again and again.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic