Mania Grade: D
Maniac Grade: D
27 Comments | Add
Rate & Share:
- Movie: 2012
- Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 2 hrs. 38 min.
- Starring: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover, Zlatko Buric, and Woody Harrelson
- Written By: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
- Directed By: Roland Emmerich
- Distributor: Columbia Pictures
2012 Movie Review
Apocalypse Porn in Roland Emmerich's 2012.
By Rob Vaux
November 13, 2009
Review for Roland Emmerich's 2012(2009).
© Sony Pictures/Bob Trate
2012 structures itself according to the same basic principles of porn. Story, plot, character… none of it really matters. The audience paid for money shots, and money shots are what they get: wave after wave of them, delivered in an endless orgy of CGI-rendered oblivion. They look just as sexy as they did in the ads and the hypnotic fascination of watching the cities of the world fall before apocalyptic onslaught holds its share of guilty pleasures. Unfortunately, like porn, the constant barrage of it grows repetitive after a time, and what started out as pure excitement quickly becomes dull as dishwater. That's fine with an X-rated film--having served its purpose, it can safely be turned off midway through the running time. But 2012 still has the pretense of an actual story, dragging us across 160 merciless minutes even after it empties its threadbare bag of tricks. By the end, you feel like you've been pounded senseless by raw steak.
The dynamics behind such an equation are as old as cinema itself, and certainly serve this effort well in its insidious purpose. Unlike, say The Road, which thrusts us face-first into the end of the world and forces us to share in the consequences, 2012 places us in a position of voyeuristic empowerment. It doesn't invest us emotionally in any of the proceedings--the characters all embody stock stereotypes and the horrors of civilization's downfall hold no real consequence--which lets us really sit back and enjoy it. The indefensible morality of that equation is part and parcel; 2012 wants us to dance on the world's grave and it won't do to make us actually feel bad about anything. So shots of California falling into the sea or Washington D.C. succumbing to a giant tidal wave refrain from meditating on the human cost, the better to keep us amused and entertained rather than horrified.
Again, that's part of the package, and complaining about it is akin to saying that Big Macs are bad for you. But like director Roland Emmerich's other films, it covers up the real purpose of the exercise with a lot of half-assed attempts to tell a story. That's tough to pull off when your central premise involves an unstoppable global meltdown--predicted by the Mayans and apparently as inevitable as the sun rising in the east. In any rational scenario, it leaves the characters with nothing to do but stick their heads between their legs and kiss their butts good-bye. The effort to make them proactive masters of their own destiny turns the entire affair into an extended farce.
2012 centers on a pair of principle figures--John Cusack's struggling divorced dad and Chiwetel Ejiofor's government scientist who figures out what's about to happen. The one may seem totally unconnected to the other, but thanks to some shoddy screenwriting (something about an everyman learning the importance of family while billions die sudden, hideous deaths), they become the catalyst around which Armageddon slowly turns.
Beneath them stand a gaggle of figures straight from Irwin Allen central casting: the noble president (Danny Glover), his sleazy aid (Oliver Platt), the wacky conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) and a half dozen others all parading through the scenery as it goes up in smoke.
Apparently, the governments of the world knew the end was coming and concocted a plan, though of course it's rife with compromise and corruption (giving various figures opportunities to make showy speeches about doing the right thing in a vain effort to distract us from the thunderous goofiness involved). Additional dramatic conceits play out amid the chaos, with blossoming romance, marital reconciliation and the duplicity of boob jobs fighting for attention amid all the collapsing landmarks.
Of course, by the time we get to the big plan, we've already slogged through scene after scene of unprecedented destruction. And to be sure, they look quite impressive, provided you ignore their stunning disregard for the laws of physics. 2012 is big on Emmerich's auteurial motif of human beings outrunning natural phenomenon--people hoof it past expanding fault lines, volcanic clouds and cities collapsing into the sea--but why stay limited to that? Planes slalom through newly created canyons like bumper cars, while ships at sea head blithely on their way despite the fact that entire continents have now been destroyed. The final third hinges on a very convenient shift of 1,000 miles worth of tectonic plates, though of course by then the sheer preposterousness of it all has reduced our brains to a fine paste. (My favorite head-slapper is comparatively small: a brief shot of an actor playing Governor Schwarzenegger… who will step down in January, 2011 and thus won't be running California when the world ends.)
That may be part of Emmerich's fiendish plan, of course: pummel us with explosions until we accept whatever he says without question. Indeed, the finale practically depends on it, lest our overheated brains simply reject it all out of hand and wrench themselves out of our skulls in protest. As the poster says, we were warned. Emmerich has always envied Steven Spielberg and the number of riffs on that filmmaker's work borders on the shameful ("we're gonna need a bigger plane," Cusack intones at one point). But Spielberg always certified his fun by creating characters we could believe in, while ensuring that we never forgot the human cost in his spectacular acts of destruction (witness War of the Worlds). 2012 missed the importance of those elements and thus descends to the level of a bad joke. Most of us, at least, still have the presence of mind to laugh at it.
Read the 5 Deadly Sins of Roland Emmerich