2012, the year, not the film, approaches with a buzz similar to that of Y2K. Indeed, many people disappointed by the world’s unapologetic failure to end last time are looking forward to the last day of the fabled Mayan (or “MesoAmerican Long Count”) calendar. It is believed that the eschaton will finally be immanentized (“the world will end” in the wondrous language of Shea & Wilson) on the 21st of December in that year. While religious experts and scientists alike assure us that apocalypse is probably not on a schedule, the drama of world’s end latches onto people like a virus, creating an audience starving for Armageddon. Premise? Check.
2012, the movie, not the event, satisfies that hunger admirably. This flick is, in a word, epic.
Before I go any further, allow to me to be clear on one point: 2012 is 100% action movie. I generally don’t like action movies much, but the exceptions tend to share a few common factors. Firstly, all of them feature great actors, most of whom are John Cusack. Secondly, they must be both gripping drama and thrill ride. My personal collection contains only one film that I can categorize only as an action movie: Con Air. I’m fine with things like Die Hard, mind you. I just don’t own them.
Of course, apocalypse movies really have grown into a genre of their own. And this film deserves the crown, the belt and some kind of ceremonial robe trimmed in ermine. The cast features the aforementioned Mr. Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor (a.k.a. the bad guy in Serenity), Amanda Peet (Battle for Terra, Martian Child), Oliver Platt (Bicentennial Man, Martian Child), Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson. Director Roland Emmerich is responsible for projects like The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and (get this!) Isaac Asimov’s Foundation–currently in development. I was stunned watching the credits roll by displaying no fewer than seven major graphics studios and a litany of smaller effects companies. Cast and Crew? Check.
Emmerich teamed up with producer Harald Kloser on the script to produce a thrilling, fast paced epic that fulfills the standard action obligations while still providing toothsome characters and a delicate balance of scope. Story? Check.
Cusack’s Jackson Curtis is a disillusioned writer who lost his wife (Peet) and two children (Liam James, Morgan Lily) to the passion of his work. Now driving a limo for a rich Russian, Curtis picks his kids up for a camping trip at Yellowstone. What the writer cannot know is that Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his team have discovered that increased sunspot activity is resulting in a neutrino storm strong enough to alter the earth’s core. The world’s governments tucked this knowledge deep in a vest pocket some years before when Dr. Helmsley alerted White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Platt) and President Thomas Wilson (Glover).
When the Curtises arrive at the massive caldera that is Yellowstone, the changes and military presence in the park are startling. Jackson takes his kids back to L.A. ahead of schedule, but not before meeting a conspiracy theorist (Harrelson) who knows the end is nigh and the secret plot to escape it. The first serious effects hit the San Andreas just as Curtis returns, and the drama kicks into high gear. Tension? Check.
The characters are woven gently together in a way that reminds us of the magic of the human network, bridging the world from India to L.A. to D.C. and into the mountains of China. Though the cast is large, each character received care and attention in the crafting. Their personal choices and inevitabilities balance the epic nature of apocalypse while reminding us very much of the better angels of our human nature. In fact, shades of naive hope and unbridled compassion permeate the movie, providing the affable and cynical Cusack plenty of room for dichotomy.
Noting Emmerich’s previous works leads to high expectations when critiquing 2012. His vision is clearer here than ever before, setting a new bar for future projects, one requiring not only bleeding edge effects, but stick-to-your-ribs story telling as well.
The terrible wrath of nature unleashes itself against the tenuous works of man in a barrage of stunning scenes. The survivors struggle and careen their way across this collapsing planet for the hope of mankind’s worthiness. In the end, survival depends on courage, ingenuity, and above all, compassion.
Great movie? Check.
I give 2012 eight of ten points for epic survival drama.