The Good: Amazing special effects
The Bad: Predictable plot and character elements.
The Basics: A big special effects film that does little that other disaster films have not already done, 2012 is a complete disappointment.
It is hard these days for me to get excited or even overly critical about some movies; they simply are That Type Of Movie. So, for example, when one is watching Volcano and a volcano erupts in a major urban center, it’s hard to get upset about it or take it seriously once one accepts the basic premise of the film. After catching a screening of 2012, I am feeling pretty much the same way about that film. This is not a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey or 2010: The Year We Make Contact, this is more like Roland Emmerich’s prior disaster flick, The Day After Tomorrow. As such, it is what it is, a big special-effects driven film that is predictably light on plot surprises or character development.
The thing is, even for the type of movie that it is, viewers are likely to feel somewhat cheated by 2012. For those who have seen even previews for The Day After Tomorrow and the movie poster for 2012, there are few surprises even with the quality of the special effects. 2012 features cutting-edge special effects and the disaster scenes of earthquakes, floods and raging fires are impressive, but that’s pretty much the movie is all about and the character elements are cliché and merely act as filler between tremendous special effects sequences. In other words, the emotional resonance one gets from watching the extended trailer is about all they are likely to get from the actual film and, truth be told, the best special effects shots are included in the trailer. If you've got a decent HDTV, you lose nothing by seeing this on Blu-Ray or DVD.
In the wake of suicides in Guatemala that draw mass attention to the Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012, the top secret Institute For Human Continuity begins building massive subterranean shelters so that humanity will not be wiped out if the worst actually comes. Divorcee Jackson Curtis is visiting Yellowstone with his children where he meets Charlie Frost. Frost tells Jackson about the end of the world and when seismic events begin occurring, it appears he is correct and the Mayans may have called it right. So, Jackson and his son and daughter make a beeline back to Los Angeles in the attempt to get Jackson’s ex-wife, Kate and get to one of the secret arks.
What follows is a sequence of special effects shots where nature itself seems to be chasing the Curtis family with fire, floods and earthquakes. There’s a daring escape and . . . okay, I’m done with the plot recap. Usually, I try to do two paragraphs of plot recap, but I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm for it with this one. 2012 is another film absolutely ruined by the preview trailers as even the moments of harrowing escape were included in the trailer and, truth-be-told, by the time it comes up in the actual film I didn't care about Jackson, Kate, Noah, Lily (their kids) or any of the political officials who bother to keep going about their jobs as the end of the world comes.
And my hopes that 2012 would be one of those films that starts off as one type of film and then becomes something else did not pan out. Despite the idea of the Mayans correctly predicting the end of the world (and, ultimately, how they knew), there is little richness to the movie and so many elements were borrowed from The Day After Tomorrow as to make most of the film seem like a rehash of something we have seen before (even for those of us who only watched part of The Day After Tomorrow while substituting a high school class). The character elements in 2012 feel more canned, though and the film ultimately comes with no real moral or message.
As a result, 2012 does not have the emotional resonance it ought to have. Jackson Curtis is pretty much an everyman and his belief in Charlie’s dire predictions about the state of the world are supposed to be made more believable by the fact that Jackson is a science fiction writer. But in today’s world with thousands of science fiction fans, Jackson is very much the everyman and as a result, viewers are left feeling a lack of caring for him. Why should Jackson Curtis and his family be saved from the demise of the world? What makes him special and worth using to repopulate the species? The answer is, unfortunately, nothing. And this makes it hard to care about him.
As well, the whole idea of saving the population comes across as pathetically optimistic and here 2012 continues its trend as That Kind Of Movie. Unlike The Day After Tomorrow, which serves as a somewhat bloated cautionary tale about the environmental impact of man, 2012 is far less concrete. The end of the world is coming . . . some of humanity can be saved. This film is not going to get any government on Earth concerned enough to build something that would allow the planet to be evacuated. So, why, then, are Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser obsessed with trying to save humanity? This reminds me of a graphic novel I recently read, Batman R.I.P. (click here for my review) where readers were teased with the idea of the death of Batman. This is a great idea and readers care about it because they care about the character. When that is taken away from us, though, the reader feels cheated. Similarly, in 2012, because none of the characters in any way remarkable or special in any demonstrable way which makes us care about them, viewers looking for something truly new and different have to ask, “Where is the harm in killing everyone?” In other words, the emotional catharsis that could come from the creation of the arks and the protagonists making it to them only matters if one cares about the people getting saved. If they aren’t extraordinary, what’s the harm in making them fail?
Oh yeah, it’s That Kind Of Movie. The problem with 2012 is that it is obvious and we’ve seen it all before, in vastly more interesting ways. John Cusack gives us nothing that we haven’t seen before in his role of Jackson Curtis. The child actors in the movie are homogeneously bad as well and even Danny Glover seems a bit stiff as President Wilson (45, not 28!). Even Amanda Peet, who is usually one of my favorites, slumps through her role as the archetypal protective mother and left me wondering why she was attached to the project. And for those hoping Woody Harrelson’s performance might be worth seeing, Zombieland managed to trump his weird character quota for last year.
Even if 2012 is surprisingly mindless special effects action adventure tripe, well, it’s still tripe. The inability to care about any of the characters sinks this movie and while it no doubt won the box-office race the weekend it came out, it’s not because of the quality of the work. Anyone who wants to be at all surprised about this film ought not to watch the preview trailer or look up anything on the IMDB either as both reveal critical information about the storyline and “universe” of 2012.
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© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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