The creator of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich, has gleefully topped himself with this sweeping, insanely apocalyptic adventure for giant-screen cineplex spectators.
2012 stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, and Danny Glover, and draws from the Mayan prophecy about the world's fate on December 21st of that year. The template of the disaster picture is filled to the hilt when it comes to exposition and set pieces.
Scribes Harald Kloser and Emmerich relate the direness through Cusack's unprioritized Jackson, a chauffeur whose writing career went bust (only 50 copies of his "Farewell to Atlantis" were sold). While camping at Yellowstone Park with his kids, Jackson comes across a top-secret government operation.
He's informed by a nutty radio announcer (Woody Harrelson, better in Zombieland) about impending global doom. High-end government geo-scientist Adrian (Ejiofor), with help from an astrophysicist colleague (Jimi Mistry) from India has notified the President (Glover) and his Chief of Staff (Oliver Platt) on time-sensitive natural catastrophes. This all steadily leads up to the titular year.
As Jackson returns home to the City of Angels the seismic craziness has already begun. Just in time, he gets his ex-wife (Peet), their kids, and her new doctor significant other Douglas (an affable Tom McCarthy) out of the bedlam on a path that leads to Las Vegas and then to the Far East and a little beyond.
So, 2012 unfolds on this unparalleled cataclysm and the heroism of those trying to survive due to the earth's crust being neutralized by intense solar flares. The not-so-large assortment of folks out to defy death here are pretty palatable as they have to deal with a ginormous underlating sea, an imploding desert, as well as escape from a volcanic eruption, as well as a shift in the poles.
The big thrills of what seems like a chaotic barrage are the special effects that take place initially in Southern California and Yellowstone, as the latest computer-generated technology will be the kind of vast visual escapist entertainment that translates like fantasy. It's mass entertainment built on mass destruction with all of the quaking and huge waves, as the buttons are pushed to make the science seem remotely viable, especially for those into geology. For some a lull may occur in the middle sections, with a rush coming later near the climax with the hydraulics on a gate.
The cast goes along with what has a decent sense of humor about what is always tense, done with a little wink and a smile. Cusack (going through more than in 1408) seems to have fun being in something of a rollercoaster ride scaled to new heights, and Ejiofor (no stranger to more visceral sci-fi action - Children of Men) is fine as the noble adviser who takes a liking to the President's daughter (Thandie Newton). Peet, who co-starred with Cusack in the mysterious "Ten Little Indians" - like thriller Identity has her moments as a wife and mother on edge, and Platt provides welcome comic relief, at least early on, as the smarmy politician, who defies the film's adage, "when we stop fighting for one another we lose our humanity". George Segal still carries himself well as a musician out on a luxury cruise ship paired with Adrian's dad.
A bloated 2012 is mindful of real-world tragedies, pop culture, especially as it pertains to these kind of motion pictures (think Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, and When Worlds Collide for veteran viewers), in a kind of self-effacing way that makes all the preposterousness in a smaller world with a half-dozen arks go down with all the sentiment and reckoning that it's the mother of all disaster movies. What would Steve McQueen and Paul Newman think of this eye-popping ominous obliteration? Destruction has never looked this good.