Rated PG-13; Directed by Roland Emmerich; Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover
You know what to expect when you go to a disaster movie. You do not expect a deep plot that makes you think. No, you get simple plots, weak characterization, and, hopefully, some fun special effects. When director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) takes on a disaster movie you get amazing effects, but you are still stuck with a less than perfect plot and characters.
In Emmerich’s latest film, 2012, we get the granddaddy of all disaster movies. Imagine all the earthquake, volcano, and tsunami movies thrown together with a splash of Titanic tossed in for good measure. So many kinds of disasters hit the earth that watching the destruction of all we know loses power to excite any feelings other than “Gee, that looks nifty.”
The large cast of 2012 does better than many others sunk in these kinds of movies. John Cusack brings his usual charm as a writer who discovers that the earthquakes hitting California are leading up to the end of the world. He’s a sympathetic character as a divorced dad who wants to save his family from the destruction. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a science advisor to the President (played by Danny Glover) and has the thankless role of the conscience of the film. He gets stuck with the speeches about what it is to be human. Oliver Platt plays the semi-villain in the movie (when the earth’s crust is shifting, it’s hard to have a real villain, but Platt’s character is the typical selfish person who must be proven wrong at some point). Woody Harrelson has the most fun as the wacked out radio DJ who expects the destruction.
While the movie offers amazing action scenes – some quite unbelievable – Emmerich can’t raise any sense of suspense. We know our heroes will survive even as the earth is literally crumbling around them. The earth crumbling is certainly awesome, as are the huge waves, and giant volcanic explosions, but some missteps ruin the movie, especially in the last act. Pure hokiness takes over as a hero may have to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. What could have had some emotional heft ends up as pure awkward hokum.
2012 offers great special effects, plus plenty of nifty depictions of destruction. It is a perfect disaster movie in that way. It is also weak and clunky and overblown – another example of many disaster movies. Too bad it’s not perfect.