Movie Review: On the eve of destruction with ‘2012’

13 Nov


cinemagrade b-There is no getting around it. Roland Emmerich’s 2012 is a spectacularly stupid movie.

Over the course of its 153 minute running time, Yellowstone blows its top, D.C. gets predictably crushed under heavy down-pour of CGI, and most of California just crumbles like a French pastry. In the midst of this eye-smashing gauntlet of global apocalypse, a startling number of gifted actors run about dodging falling Earth shrapnel, choke out hokey lines about mankind’s fall, and work overtime to convince us that this time it really is the end. To top things off, Danny Glover gets to be the second black president to shepherd the human race through an extinction level event.

2012-movie-02Thankfully, 2012 is also spectacular in a visual and aural sense, and it offers more wholesale destruction than all of Irwin Allen’s output combined. In essence, Roland’s film is the final word on mega-budget disaster flicks, and he does it about as well as it can be done. 2012, for all of its issues, is a good time at the movies and it even finds time to strike a few contemplative notes about sacrifice on a global level. What happens when we cannot rescue everyone, and in order to save many we may have to forego our own salvation? It lasts for little more than a minute, but refreshingly, 2012’s grasping of this dilemma provides a rather resilient framework upon which Emmerich hangs some epic set pieces.

The cast is headed up by John Cusack as Jackson Curtis (I can only assume his nickname is Centy-Fift), a struggling author with kids and an ex-wife who he yearns to be–yadda, yadda. Y’know what? I didn’t care much at all about any of these people as characters. They are the same rehashed stand-ins from Independence Day, who are starting to look worse for the wear after having been trotted out as leftovers in both Godzilla and Day After Tomorrow.  It isn’t incompetent writing that renders them flat, but deliberate, calculated economy. It may be a wholly disturbing thought, but Emmerich doesn’t want you distracted by character connection when half the cast goes sliding into an abyss that used to be the parking lot of a San Diego Wal Mart.


There is but one exception to that rule, and it’s Chiwetel Ejiofor as the scientist who hatches a plan to build several modern day Arks to preserve the human race and outlast the catastrophic shifting of those wacky Tectonic plates. Ejiofor has been given the only character who straddles the moral complications of weathering this apocalyptic storm, and he can see there are far more people than available ports. As an actor, he does not compromise his usually precise internalizing of a character’s motives. I liked him, and I hoped he would survive to live on in a better, more thoughtful movie.

But enough of that. Aren’t you getting tired of me bringing up words like ‘thoughtful’ when they have no use here? It’s sort of ticking me off too. This is one ride that is absolutely all about the surface shine, and here it is shiny indeed. There is a real grandeur and almost perverse beauty to the way Emmerich destroys the world.  I loved the unlikely shots of animals being airlifed into giant waiting ships parked in front of dangerously advancing waves. Yellowstone unleashes hell, and I smiled and wondered if anyone was coming back to take one of those plummeting hunks of rock as a souvenir. When L.A. implodes I was reminded of how exceptional special fx have become, and how if you look really, really closely, you can see individual office chairs falling around inside dozens and dozens of crumbling high rises.

2012-movie-still It is 2012’s dedicated fx artists, imagining in explicit texture our own fantasies of destruction, that are really the secret weapons of the film. I remember being so thrilled by Jurassic Park in 1993 and wanting to be part of a creative team who would help bring things like that to the screen. Now, years later, the new wave has traded up wonder for pure, unadulterated cataclysm. And here, it works. It really does.

The human moments felt clunky to me, and the film has no real rhythm or sense of pacing. I was done with it before it was done with me. That is not to say I didn’t have fun, but I was also prompted to wonder why I found this one more palatable than Emmerich’s previous efforts. Perhaps, after years of being bludgeoned by his own curious brand of entertainment, as an audience member I go in expecting a beating.

2012-movieEmmerich isn’t the only filmmaker working in this new breed of blockbuster. Michael Bay, Stephen Sommers, McG and probably a dozen others hammer their audiences not with style and class but with unending sensory annihilation. Some succeed, some don’t. But consider this; we live in a world where the action director casts himself as the antagonist of his own film and the only way to overcome him is to survive the movie. I’d always assumed I went to the theater because I liked being swept up in a great story, or taken along for an imaginative ride. It appears that I can also add ‘visual assault and battery’ to that list of appreciated cinematic emotions.

So, go, enjoy 2012 for what it is. Those of you who will enjoy it, you know who you are. For the rest of you, I suggest picking a film showing in a theater at least 40 yards from this one. It’s the only way to avoid hearing it.

10 Responses to “Movie Review: On the eve of destruction with ‘2012’”

  1. The Great Fatsby November 13, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    It sounds exactly like how I thought it would be.

  2. xiphos0311 November 13, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    158 minutes really? that seems a bit to long for a movie like this. Well at least the OTHER 157 minutes ae given over to the distruction and mayhem.

  3. lord bronco November 14, 2009 at 4:44 am #

    Hmmm-So i skipped Transformers 2, skipped Gi Joe, I remember watching The day After tomorrow on HBO, and hating all the dopey human beings…no friends will call back to watch this…

    OK, i get it, i’ll call and beg them to watch An Ordinary Man, i have offended their busy work schedules and effeminite sensibilities…

    Oh crap, College football tomorrow–Emerich and coen brothers…you lose!

  4. Bartleby November 14, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Yea, it’s sick that I still haven’t seen A Serious Man, but have se 2012, The Box and The Fourth Kind. Yeeesh!

  5. koutchboom November 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Yeah I wanted to see A Serious Man, never got around to it, missed it in theater.

  6. tere November 20, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    perfect movie !!

  7. ariyoso November 21, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    yeaahh, john cussack is come out nowhere and at least he’s not dead as a driver,,
    what an enormous stupidity..

  8. Danny November 21, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    They need to stop giving Emmerich the reigns in movies like this just because he directed independence day. Anyone can make a movie with pretty CGI but a cohesive story needs more than that. Im aware that he also directed Universal Soldier and the Patriot; both had involving and gripping storytelling but they also happen to be the only movies that didnt involve Rolly in the screenplay writing process.

  9. Bartleby November 21, 2009 at 6:57 pm #

    Dan, I didn’t actually care much for The Patriot and in some ways thought that one was maybe his most egregious movie because it wanted to be taken seriously but in many ways was still existing on that kiddie comic-book level. I will cede that most of the problem I had with it was the direction. There’s a scene in the film where the love interest is holding an empty blanket that should conceal a baby. There are numerous gaffs like this in the film. Gibson was delivering a strong performance, but I thought everything surrounding it was schlock.

    2012 is no different, but he’s so intensely focused on just blowing up the world, that I acknowledged that it had been done well and that I was entertained. While I do agree with you here, I think it’s safer to keep letting Emmerich making things like this then giving him properties that matter. I mean after Independence Day, which was one of the first big sci-fi movies in a long time, people were eager to start throwing out his name in association with alot of serious science fiction franchises. Thankfully Godzilla came along and took care of that little problem.

  10. clockworthy November 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    This was pretty grating to watch, and this is coming from someone who enjoys ‘The Day After Tomorrow’.

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