The world isn't safe when Roland Emmerich is behind the camera. The master of disaster, the whore of death, the eater of souls, Roland Emmerich is back at it, looking to top his previous epics with his magnum opus of destruction films. Not content with wiping out much of the world's population by aliens (Independence Day) or bad weather (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich embraces the end of the Mayan calendar by unleashing 2012 upon movie audiences. Let's just say that more people die in this movie than all of his other films combined. And then some.
2012 is about the end of the world. You see, between the planets aligning perfectly as they tend to do once every 640,000 years and the largest solar flare in human history, the earth's core has begun to destabilize, resulting in a shift in the poles, a shift of the earth's crust and the death of just about every human on the planet - except those who are one of the lucky few selected by one of the many governments to survive on board a fleets of arcs.
Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is not one of those people. But after hearing about a crazy conspiracy theory by an even crazier Yellowstone radio jock (Woody Harrelson) and listening to one of his client's cocky kids telling him that he's going to die, he jumps into fast action to save his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and children from impending doom. Along with a few other lucky people, they find themselves in a race against time as the world itself crumbles beneath them.
The plot is pretty inconsequential, and in reality perfect for a movie like 2012. Disaster films need disaster, but Emmerich establishes a basic but perfectly acceptable tale of survival on the brink. The movie is, wholeheartedly, over the top, and if that kind of thing bothers you, 2012 is not for you. But if you can suspend belief for two hours and forty minutes (yes, it's that long), 2012 is Emmerich's best and biggest thrill ride since Independence Day.
The visual effects are incredible, especially in the first hour as Los Angeles and the West Coast literally get sucked into Hell. While you know it's CGI, Emmerich hits the audience with so many sequences one after another that it's impossible to take a breath and reflect on how crazy everything is. While I would normally criticize a film for having little character development and a lot of expensive special effects, Emmerich keeps you begging for more. 2012 is a major adrenaline rush, and the excellent visuals have a large part in that.
The movie isn't without its flaws, though most are logic nitpicks that are bound to crop up throughout a film like this. Strangely, one item that bugged me the most was a cell phone conversation that takes place after most of the world has been obliterated, as if cell phones would still be working under such circumstances. Another moment that stands out, perhaps a more serious one, is Peet's sudden kiss and "I love you" to her ex-husband at the end, just minutes after the boyfriend she loved bites it.
When you begin with destroying the world, it's hard to top that in the climax. We've already seen the huge tidal waves in the previews, so that leaves Emmerich with few other cards up his sleeve. The climax takes place on board one of the Arcs, leaving Cusack and the others to climb through the underbelly of the ship as water seeps in and gears crank overhead. Oh, and the arc is sailing right towards Mt. Everest. Unfortunately, this all seems so minor compared to the rest of the movie, though it's hard to think of an alternate finale. All in all, the climax is still exciting - it's just not as exciting as earlier in the movie.
At nearly three hours long, the movie does begin to feel long after a while, but there is so much action and suspense throughout that time still flies. I wasn't expecting a lot from 2012, but the movie far exceeded expectations: it is one of the most exciting and exhilarating films of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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