Roland Emmerich keeps making Independence Day over and over, shittier every time like a badly replicated clone. 2012 is his latest poopturd, which posits that the Mayan calendar predicted a 640,000 year cycle of destruction caused by solar flares which overheat the Earth’s core and make the crust slosh around like the flaky top of your chicken pot pie after you’ve mashed it with a fork.
What annoyed me about 2012 was the utter lack of empathy for the billions of dead. Emmerich’s CG set pieces have gotten crueler than when huge attack ships roasted entire cities; now 400 foot tsunami aren’t bad enough, they have to heave aircraft carriers onto the White House lawn. People praying in Vatican City get steamrolled by the dome of the St. Peter’s basilica. All rendered in slow motion, so we can see it all. The earthquakes are hilarious, with cracks in the asphalt that seem to chase people and split couples apart neatly. The big ones cause fissures a mile deep, but are sure to leave recognizable wreckage so we know what city was just leveled. It’s rather like watching a Final Destination film, except you get hapless gaggles of humanity dying at Fate’s cruel hand instead of annoying teenagers who were asking for it by starring in a horror movie.
This one might as well have been called The Year After the Day After Tomorrow, because essentially it’s that same nutless disaster porn with a vague message rehashed. This time it’s bleakly cynical. Our hero is John Cusack playing a science fiction writer, who is of course divorced and has two kids who don’t like him, even though he seems to love them more than anything in the world; he’s just sort of an unsuccessful doofus whose wife left him for a plastic surgeon with a Porsche. Of course they love him by the end of the movie, because he saves 1/3 of humanity, despite having put them in the predicament in the first place. Anyway, he’s John Cusack playing a grown up Lloyd Dobbler that is hard to dislike. Rather than re-hash the plot, let’s just say he takes his kids camping, makes them walk on Old Faithful’s little bro, and instead of them all being boiled alive, they are captured by sneaky government types led by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Back off man, he’s a scientist.
He’s a pretty naive scientist. Having warned the President of the Earth’s impending doom, he just sort of assumes everyone will be warned, and we’ll have a fair lottery to see who gets on the stupendous arks they hired the Chinese to make. Of course not, the tickets cost a billion dollars, so next to the pairs of elephants, giraffes, and rhinos we get to see extras dressed as Paris Hiltons, the Queen of England, and a bunch of sheiks. A few leaders choose to perish with their people, and oddly enough you don’t see Olympic athletes, engineers and Nobel prize winners getting envelopes in the mail saying “come to the ass end of China to receive an award, and be quiet about it.” When it comes down to it, only Chewie and Cusack seem to have any morals, and Ejiofor only gets it after an unlikely phone call from his Indian scientist pal who didn’t get a golden ticket, and is staring at a 1500 meter tsunami heading his way.
Now I know you don’t go to a blockbuster like this for the cerebral involvement. This makes Avatar look like 2001. But wouldn’t it have been a lot cooler, and more plausible- or at least less bullshitastic- if scientists and athletes and other genetic lottery winners started disappearing, while the Earth begins spiraling into disaster? I know I’m asking for subtlety from a guy who names a kid Noah in a movie with a flood and arks in it. I’m not saying it should be like the masterful apocalypse film Last Night (full review) and really confront us with what we’d do on our last night on earth, but when faced with the extinction of humanity, should you really make me care whether some rich twat’s lap dog survives? It was too easy to forget the billions who were dying in the background, and too much excitement was generated for the arks, and the joy of mankind starting anew without the fetters of all those hungry mouths to feed. Like the craziest of the eco-terrorists who secretly wish the Earth would shake off 99% of humanity like so many fleas so they could live in a hunter-gatherer paradise, 2012 wants me to think like Stalin- a single death (like the Porsche dude porking Cusack’s wife) is a tragedy, but billions are a summer blockbuster. I think it appeals to our basest nature, because we all think we’d be on the ark. It’s sort of like assuming that that Jesus is going to return in your lifetime. What makes you so special?
I liked Woody Harrelson playing a conspiracy blogger so wacky that he was daring Emmerich to keep him in the film. I thought the CG rendition of the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera was amazing to watch. I liked that while New York is shown, we’re spared seeing its destruction for the umpteenth time. I liked Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt, Serenity) on board as the voice of reason and humanity, Thandie Newton in a rather wasted role as the First daughter. The bad guy in the film is named Anheuser, which is kind of cute. Thanks to Mr. Ebert for pointing me at that one. John Cusack did a good job and I hope the cash helps him fund more personal projects like High Fidelity. Roland Emmerich said this will be his last disaster film; let’s hope it’s the last one that is a disaster. Get it?
1.5 out of 5 Mayan poopquakes
© 2010 Thomas Pluck.