Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Tom McCarthy and Chiwitel Ejiofor.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 151 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Disaster scenes and infrequent coarse language

The end is near! And, according to 2012, it is much nearer than we thought: 21/12/12. Apparently the Mayans knew this a long time ago but historians and scientists did not. The question is – will 2012 make enough at the box-office before there is no more box-office!

Roland Emmerich loves disaster films. He has already destroyed Washington DC (in Independence Day), New York (in Godzilla) and the whole of North America (in The Day After Tomorrow). Now it is Los Angeles, overwhelmingly spectacularly, and glimpses of the collapse of Rio de Janeiro, the Vatican and Washington again.

In fact, 2012 is a welcome throwback to those disaster movie highlights of the 1970s and has Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Earthquake all rolled into one plus ingredients from the 90s Deep Impact and Titanic. If it is spectacle and effects on an apocalyptic scale you want, then 2012 is your movie.

The staging of the quakes, eruptions, chases, crashes, shifting tectonic plates and giant tsunamis keeps us watching, mesmerised. It is the central human plot that is gripping at an immediate ‘what is going to happen next to these nice people?’ level but it quickly pushes all the expected buttons rather than dramatically provocative buttons. It is a 2009 version of the old time serials with their successive cliffhangers (and there is a literally belief-defying cliffhanger with John Cusack in the middle of the film). John Cusack is the nice but novel-writing-absorbed, now-absent father. Amanda Peet is the nice wife and mother. Tom McCarthy is the nice new father-figure who, fortunately, has had a few flying lessons which enable some survivors to fly to China!!

The other human story is more interesting, with gripping moments because it is the science and politics story. Chiwitel Ejiofor is a good enough actor and strong screen presence to make us believe that the alignment of the planets is causing new atomic particles to bombard earth and make the crust crumble with giant fissures in LA streets and down supermarket aisles while hills and mountains can rise and re-shape the land masses and coastal suburbs can upend and slide into the sea.

Oliver Platt is the literal heavy, a pragmatic politician who is not too strong on humanity or compassion. And who better than Danny Glover as the president to make the sad announcements about the end of the world and show heroic personal self-sacrifice (well, maybe Morgan Freeman who had to do all this with great gravitas in Deep Impact)?

As with the older disaster movies, there are some oldies (George Segal) and a nice president’s daughter (Thandie Newton) but there are some newer aspects including Tibetan monks, a selfish (overweight and rude) Russian billionnaire and Woody Harrelson (mad again!) as a wild mountain man who broadcasts revelations about disaster before he is whooshed away into eternity. There is even some underwater swimming heroics reminding us how much we liked this in The Poseidon Adventure.
While 2001 was something of a spiritual space odyssey, 2012 is quite a secular tale (though with its arks to rescue the chosen ones – and some airlifted giraffes, elephants etc – it has Chiwitel Ejiofor becoming a new Noah who wants to save as many people as possible and start a new world). Interestingly, no blame is laid for the disaster. It is nature, not a punishment from God, and, except for the ruthless politicians and the selfish rich, most humans are deep down nice.

Roland Emmerich knows what he wants to do and does it with spectacular panache. To make his next movie more of a classic of special effects, it would be good if he could do some more work on making the human story more interesting and dramatically complex.

For a fuller and more critical account of the anti-religious (and specifically anti-Catholic) nature of this film, the YouTube commentary by Fr Robert Barron is strongly recommended: YouTube commentary – note contains spoilers.

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