Say what you will about Roland Emmerich, and many have and I’m sure many more will, but the man knows how to abuse a landscape. Given that within his back catalogue, the guy’s unleashed a giant reptile around New York, had aliens destroy all the major cities of the world and frozen the entire northern hemisphere, you’d think he’d be looking for something new, to stretch his horizon a little beyond the tedium of landscape desecration. Well now it looks like he may be doing just that, but before he goes, he wants to make sure he’s remembered for the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. So, in 2012, which historical landmarks are being reduced to so much dust in the wind? The Washington monument? The Sistine chapel? Christ the Redeemer? If you answered d) All of the above, congratulations, you’re correct, as Emmerich has had enough of humanity, and is blowing all of civilisation sky high. He even has a pop at Mount Everest, and we didn’t even build that.
The plot, in so far as one is necessary, involves the Sun heating the Earth’s core and causing worldwide devastation. Knowing this, Danny Glover’s president and the other heads of the world all set about building giant ships to save anyone rich enough to buy a ticket. Lost in the middle of this mess is John Cusack’s limo driver/failed writer/flawed everyman, desperate to save his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and estranged children. The luck of this family is seemingly limitless, as they are forever running into the exact person they need to meet at that exact time, be it the crackpot nutjob with the map to the ships (Woody Harrelson), the President’s chief scientific aid (Chiwetal Ejiofor) or a billionaire Russian with a giant plane. If Armageddon were ever to occur, you’re best bet is to hang around with this lot.
As with most disaster films, you really don’t need to worry about the fates of the kids or the dog, and anyone who does die, seems to do so in a heroic manner, either giving their lives to save others or to further to plot, perhaps to be used in a dramatic, passionate speech later in film. This, combined with the devastation and death of essentially everything and everyone not directly linked to the plot, left me feeling somewhat distanced from the film and its characters. With other disaster films, regardless of the event at hand, there are almost always a very large number of survivors, generally more than half of humanity. Yet with 2012, the numbers are dwindled to seemingly a few thousand, a very small percentage of life. When watching a disaster film we, the average slack-jawed yokels of the world, tend to secretly believe that we would be amongst the survivors; we too would be resourceful and smart, getting ahead of traffic to the higher grounds, and we’d be there to help repopulate the Earth with the other survivors. But with 2012, any hope of this is quashed by the sheer amount of luck, or money, required to make it even halfway through the film. This makes it hard to empathise with the characters, as they are either too lucky to exist, or too successful and rick to care about.
The effects within the film are largely impressive, although there are some sections that don’t quite look finished, but overall the end of the world convinces. The film does have an interesting point with regards to fate changing the cultural future, when one character points out that an average book has made it into the select few remaining in existence, purely because he is reading it. An insightful comment is also made regarding the first-class lifestyle that the wealthy ticketholders have come accustomed to, with the sheer size of their living quarters, each large enough to hold far more than one person.
All in all, if you’ve seen a disaster movie before and enjoyed it, you’re on safe ground here (unlike most of the characters, bah-dum-tsh) but you won’t find anything new, just the same explosions on a larger scale.