Plot: As the world faces a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, cities collapse and continents crumble. Amid all the chaos, academic researcher and book author Jackson Curtis (Cusack) leads a group of people in a desperate attempt to survive the global cataclysm.
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By now, audiences know what to expect from a film by director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Godzilla (1998), Independence Day (1996)). It’s a big-budget disaster movie with some larger-than-life eye-popping special effects and a human element that manages to be parts cheesy, emotional and comical. Oh, and a bit of preachiness tossed in for good measure. So, when we saw the trailer for 2012 – complete with it’s eye-popping sequences of disaster (which included the USS John F. Kennedy riding a monstrous wave to crash into the White House), we pretty much figured the film would be worth checking out.
However, after Roland duped us recently by coming out with the stone-age 10,000 BC (2008), we figured we’d better wait for the DVD. Would 2012 be a return to the Emmerich of Independence Day (1996)? Or was he continuing his downward spiral into obscurity?
One thing can be said for Roland. He really knows how to attract recognizable names to his films. Past films have included Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and Dennis Quaid (among many others). This time, he managed to snag John Cusack to star in 2012. While John is well-known, he’s not really considered an action hero. It’s a nice change of pace to see him outracing natural disasters at light speed. And, despite the abundance of crazy action sequences, John does a great job of keeping the viewer tuned in to his character, not just the eye-popping visuals. Even though he may get lost amidst the spectacle on occasion, he manages to surface again and bring the viewer back to his side. That way, he keeps the viewer involved, not just entertained.
He’s not alone, either, as co-stars Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Woody Harrelson (among others) also manage to keep the viewer involved in the storyline, not just the special effects. While not all of them can re-attune the viewer to the degree that Cusack is able to, they all do contribute at least a little. Surprisingly, Thandie Newton is the biggest disappointment of the film, as her past track record has proven she’s able to get viewers interested in her character and keep their interest throughout the film. Of course, her role limits her quite a bit in 2012. Her “daughter of the President” character gets neither much screen-time or much build-up, so maybe she’s just going with what she’s got to work with.
Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, turns in a surprisingly fun performance as a nut-job of a radio host. His performance, although not consistent, does manage to be a welcome dose of comic relief during those sequences where the characters’ world is, literally, falling apart beneath their feet. While he hams it up a bit too much on occasion, it’s nice to see Woody performing well again. And that’s something most viewers probably thought started and ended with his surprisingly solid performance in Natural Born Killers (1994).
The plot itself, for the first time in a Roland Emmerich pic, is based on something that’s gotten a lot of play over the last year or so – namely, the supposed cataclysmic events coming in 2012. Of course, while there is some pseudoscience to back up this claim, most of the data has been misrepresented, including the ending of the Mayan calendar (which, apparently, even the ancient Mayas didn’t believe would mean a cataclysmic event). Scientists have refuted most of the information involved, and have compared the 2012 event to the Y2K scare back at the turn of the century.
Still, most viewers have only heard about the coming cataclysm and the pseudoscience aspects backing it up, so going into the film with that knowledge only helps to add another level of tension to the film. That will cause some viewers to wonder what they would do if the events of the film were actually to come to pass. Of course, most viewers will shake off this notion as ridiculous. But, a small part of them has to wonder, and even that little bit helps them connect much easier with the characters.
As with any Emmerich disaster flick, there are moments where the human condition isn’t quite as flawed as many of us now believe. The characters manage to rise to great feats of both daring and compassion for their fellow man. True, these sequences are high on the cheese factor. But, the strong talents of the actors involved help sell the viewer on the scene anyway.
Unfortunately, the plot, while exciting as survivors flock toward a central point, degenerates a bit once they reach their destination. Their means of rescue turns out to be incredibly implausible – especially as events over the course of the film seem to negate that rescue’s success. But even then, the viewer is distracted by intense peril facing those who the viewer has come to relate to over the course of the film, and any real plausibility factor will have been long forgotten by that point in 2012.
That’s mostly due to the solid performances from the cast. But, some of the credit has to go to the eye-popping special effects sequences that appear throughout the film. From the first mad dash in a limo across a California that’s literally crumbling beneath their tires, to a volcanic eruption to end all volcanic eruptions and tidal waves cresting over mountain ranges, the special effects are breath-taking in their extremes. It’s a definite adrenaline-pumping rush to witness.
With some truly awe-inspiring special effects sprinkled liberally through the film, and John Cusack leading a solid cast of recognizable talent that keeps the viewer involved on an emotional level, mixed in with the modern-day propaganda of a supposed “end of days” arriving in 2012, 2012 will keep the viewer tuned in from beginning to rather cheesy end, despite some faults.
Made for Blu-Ray, 2012, like director Roland Emmerich’s previous efforts The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Independence Day (1996) is a special effects-laden ride worth taking. With some solid actors helping keep the viewer interested, it’s more than just another spectacular effects extravaganza.