Eye For Film >> Movies >> 2012 (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Disaster movies can be a lot of fun. Things explode, people run about and scream, familiar monuments meet their doom, there are heroes and villains and miraculous escapes. But the inevitable problem they suffer from is the constant need to go one bigger every time. Let's face it - when you've seen one Eiffel Tower fall over, you've seen them all. Audiences are quickly jaded and want larger scale, more spectacular action. In this film, Roland Emmerich has decided to take the process to its natural conclusion by destroying the entire world.
Ask the average man in the street and, if 2012 means anything to him at all, he'll probably tell you that's when the Mayans said the world would end. This isn't actually true - it's just when their calendar ended, with one oblique reference to things being different after that (a reasonable expectation when looking hundreds of years into the future). This has been conflated with a Sumerian myth about a stray planet crashing into the Earth, but Emmerich has wisely decided to sidestep that one, instead having his destruction wreaked by unusually big solar flares. To make them extra scary, he's had them produce a new kind of atomic particle. For the non-physicists out there, let's just say that this is equivalent to stumbling across a new continent in the middle of the Atlantic. The minute you hear that line, you'll know what kind of ride you're in for.
Though it has a scientist as its secondary hero and praises science throughout, this is a film which never lets science - or any understanding of reality - get in its way. It wants disasters, it wants them big, and it wants them now. And it delivers. We get earthquakes, the Yellowstone supervolcano, tsunamis, plane crashes, buildings collapsing, whole coastal regions sliding into the sea. We also get car chases, heroes dragging themselves back over the edge of cliffs, dangerous underwater rescue attempts, fireballs, and even a near collision with Mount Everest. Not all of them look quite right - the CGI is far from flawless - but if you're not too demanding in that regard, you're sure to enjoy yourself. And never fear, the requisite monuments duly get what's coming to them too.
Unfortunately, in order to fit in all these dramatic events, Emmerich has completely abandoned any attempt at a coherent story. His principle narrative thread is simple enough but the main characters - John Cusack's everyman hero and the whining family he's desperate to save - function merely as cyphers from whom to suspend the action hooks. This makes it impossible to care very much what becomes of them, and as such, much of the film's tension is lost - all we care about is that they take us onward to the next part of the show. Please, cut away from the tearful children crying out for daddy and show us something else exploding.
Working hard to forge a path against this is Chiwetel Ejiofor, superb as always, who manages to bring some pathos to his role and is the film's only real survivor, just about keeping his dignity intact. Thandie Newton does her best but has too little to do, and Blu Mankuma turns in an excellent cameo. Meanwhile we have Oliver Platt doing the pantomime villain thing as a conniving politician only interested in saving the rich, and Woody Harrelson hamming it up as a deranged hippie radio host who saw the whole thing coming.
If it seems a little unfair to mock hippies like him whilst plundering their adopted mythology wholesale, that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as this film's dodgy politics is concerned. The ending, in particular, takes a glibly romantic approach to the notion of an Earth scoured clean of all those troublesome other people, and the survivors' plans to start anew take no account at all of who might still be living in the place they plan to start in. But if you can set that kind of thing aside, you'll find 2012 an amusing enough way to pass the time until something still bigger comes along.Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2009