2012 displays all of the trademarks of disaster director Roland Emmerich's films: a huge scale, impressive effects, cardboard characters whose only hope of redemption is very good acting from the beleaguered cast, and terrible, terrible dialogue.
That said, it's one of the most visually impressive, cinematically worthy and credible (within its own bounds) apocalypse pictures ever. It's grand, gorgeous, completely cheesy, and oddly, stupidly moving despite its girth and outsized moments of total empty-headedness. It drags for a few moments at the beginning and the end, but for the rest of the two and a half hours of its remaining length, it's a great, at times jaw-dropping ride.
John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis (not to hit you over the head with too many J.C.'s, but he seems to be a minor prophet, as well), a divorced worst-selling novelist with two kids and a job driving a limo for a rich Russian magnate of some sort. I suppose making him a novelist makes the many coincidences of his realization of imminent disaster and quest for survival ironic or something, anyway a bit better than just pure crap, which they also are. This is, as usual, forgiven by the disaster movie rule, also true in real life, that he who has the most and happiest coincidences in a major catastrophe shall survive the longest, and also be the character whose story we see the most of.
Curtis happens to take his kids camping in Yellowstone National Park, straight to the spot by the lake where they were apparently conceived, which is now blocked off by the military as they research the rapid superheating of the earth's core, caused by sunstorms, which is the raison d'être of the film's disaster. (Note: Never walk up to an elk corpse by a dried-up lake in an area of a national park blocked off by the military, especially with young children, yo.)
This area is also the temporary home of a crazy (but correct) radio broadcaster (Woody Harrelson, weird) forecasting the coming disaster, who happens to have a secret map given to him by a murdered friend of Curtis's, which marks the spot for potential salvation for whoever might get saved as massive flooding, tsunamis and the shifting of the earth's crust start killing off most of the population. Also while there, Curtis meets the main White House science adviser working on predicting the timing of the apocalypse, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, pretty good), who happens to be reading a rare copy of Curtis's unsuccessful prophetic novel. Oh, and the place is just a few steps away from an airstrip with crucially full fuel tanks, for later.
Ah, bushwah. Anyway, the plot's about as unimportant as the superfluous humans in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's sciency enough to fit in with a reasonable suspension of disbelief which gives us the excuse for the surface of the earth to crumble and the oceans to rise up biblically and spectacularly, which is what we're paying for, after all.
Still, there's a real immediacy to many of the film's events. It doesn't get too cute politically (as, I assume, Emmerich's previous global warming epic, The Day After Tomorrow, probably did, which assumption is why I didn't see it and have to assume), while still packing all the punch of those creepy flooding pre-creations from Al Gore's film, with more interesting camera angles. The last-minute--literally--soppy clash between Helmsley and his boss, the crass but eminently practical Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt, not bad), is pretty stupid, and probably a direct political hit (you say "Anheuser," I think "Busch...Bush...Cheney"). (I tried to construct some significance out of the last president of the United States of America in its current form [both geologically and politically] being African-American, the first president apparently not related to his namesake with the same name as a previous president, and that namesake being probably the worst, most openly racist [and eugenicist] president [post-slavery], but I found it used too many parentheticals and brackets even to mention. But maybe now you know Woodrow's actual first name was "Thomas.")
There are a few too many absolute last-second escapes to be believable or satisfying, but then again this is leavened by a few last-second non-escapes which keep some tension going. If you've seen the trailer, which you probably have, you've seen some of these images already, and they're better in the movie, even if slightly spoiled, as big moments are wont to be by trailers these days. Still, Santa Monica falling into the sea is beautiful and kinetic and the airplane ride under the faultline-adjacent subway spewing out into space is pricelessly wrong and chillingly hilarious. A mushroom cloud in a national park is truly scary. A molten Hawaii is haunting. And many of the flooding sequences are handled quite well, notably the one with the Tibetan monk ringing the bell--probably too late to warn the valley below, but a lot of warnings are too late in this movie, to its credit.
You're most likely going to see 2012 already, I know, and you probably should see it, and you probably will like it. It's a guaranteed-hit popcorn movie, and for that, it's a slice above many guaranteed-hit popcorn movies. It's undeniably great to watch, and maybe even a very nice surprise, even if your expectations, like mine were, could be understandably low. F! X!
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