At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 2012

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Disaster/ Stars: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Tom McCarthy, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Zlatko Burić, Beatrice Rosen, Alexandre Haussmann, Philippe Haussmann, Johann Urb, John Billingsley, Ryan McDonald, Jimi Mistry, Agam Darshi, Woody Harrelson, Chin Han, Osric Chau, Tseng Chang, Lisa Lu, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Stephen McHattie, Patrick Bauchau, Henry O, Karin Konoval, Dean Marshall/ Runtime: 158 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that whenever a person of my chosen profession makes the choice to sit down and review an entry in the disaster film genre, it usually requires a skilled balancing act to commence lest a reviewer makes the choice to just simply pull a T-Rex and utterly annihilate the film without taking a moment to compare and contrast what the movie in question has and offers audiences with what other films in other genres have and offer. I bring this up because the T-Rex style may seem like the best way to approach film helmer Roland Emmerich’s 2009 entry in the disaster genre 2012 since not only is it filled to the brim with special effects, but it also seems constructed on literally every cliché for this particular genre possible. Yes it is fair to say that 2012 is not as different as a TV disaster miniseries like 10.5 or Category 6: Day of Destruction except for the fact that this film’s budget is bigger than the G.D.P. of a nation like Tuvalu and it comes packaged with a group of actors that are gasp still to some degree or another relevant to most audiences. Indeed it is the 200 million dollar budget, the aforementioned actors, the talented in this particular genre director, and even a moving to some degree screenplay which really help make this film a peak of its particular genre even as that genre has continually been spat at and jeered at by most of the filmmaking community due to all the horrifically terrible entries in it. Yet be that as it may be, Mr. Emmerich seems determined to help keep this genre of film both relevant and viable and to that end, become for modern-day disaster films what Irwin Allen was in the 70s and 80s. Thus if you’re looking for a popcorn film with good performances, a decent narrative, and a surprising degree of emotion then this film is for you. Otherwise I’m sure there has to be at least one or two prestige films that you haven’t seen yet….right?

The plot is as follows: 2012 starts its nightmare in the year 2009 where we see a young scientist by the name of Adrian Helmsley as he finds out from a colleague in India that neutrinos coming from the sun have begun causing chaos on Earth and causing reactions which could cause a global calamity on a scale hitherto undreamt of. Desperate to try and save as many people as he can before these disasters rear their ugly head on humanity, we see young Adrian as he hurries from there back to Washington D.C. in order to get an audience with the White House Chief of Staff since he has the President’s ear like few others. Jump ahead three years and we are now introduced to our main character, a limo driver and struggling author by the name of Jackson Curtis as he is in the process of taking his kids out camping to Yellowstone National Park whilst ex-wife Kate takes the time to focus on her new relationship with a plastic surgeon by the name of Gordon Silberman. Yet whilst at Yellowstone, Jackson finds himself crossing paths with a conspiracy nut/ radio host by the name of Charlie Frost who fills our intrepid hero in on what is about to go down and in the process gives him a chance to get ahead of 98% of the population and head for the locale that Frost claims is the last truly safe place on this planet. However Lady Fate soon smiles upon Jackson when, whilst getting his family out of the danger zone, he comes across his wealthiest client, his two boys, and his girlfriend and personal pilot and, upon learning that they are headed to a place that could be the key to survival, persuades him to take him and his family along for the ride. Thus we soon witness our brave yet unlikely group of survivors attempt to keep one step ahead of the death and destruction that is part of the package of the global calamity that the President of the United States must now finally come clean about to a world that is beginning to crumble away right from under each and every one of us….

Now it may not be as iconic as Independence Day, politically-charged as The Day After Tomorrow, or as lackluster as the 1998 quasi-sorta attempt at making a Godzilla movie gone awry, but in many respects 2012 might actually be helmer Emmerich’s most even and steady entry in the disaster genre to date. Indeed out of all the films in his filmography, this one stands as the most basic since the foes we as a species are facing is not extraterrestrials or a giant horribly CGI rendered lizard, but nature and time themselves and they prove to be quite the diabolical duo. Indeed few if any films have had this much demolished on such a massive scale with such brilliant work in the special effects department and never has all this anarchy, demolition, and demise on a global scale been this level of popcorn film fun. Indeed, following a slow-paced, but not downright tedious opening that serves to be our intro to a lot of the main characters at the heart of this film, 2012 unleashes a 2 hour onslaught of nearly nonstop chaos and anarchy, but also manages to put together something resembles a heart and soul and begins to construct its characters to the extent that, inevitably, a few of them start to get bumped off, it actually is heart wrenching in a sense. Be that as it may be, film helmer Emmerich ensures that the characters and pathos in this film are always where they’re meant to and instead puts emphasis on the spectacle first and foremost and ensuring that everything else is in the right place at the right time in order to pull off the most effect possible with as little as possible getting in the way of the phenomenal visual effects work that make up the middle and end of the film.

Now 2012 may mostly revolve around falling buildings, cities becoming Olympic-size swimming pools, and people surviving calamity after calamity, but it still works not because of its narrative, but rather because the film is made with a loving eye for detail and a strive for ensuring this film is both bigger and better than any other entry in the disaster film genre. To that end, it should be noted that 2012 is definitely a riveting showcase of its budget and I feel that every penny of its ginormous 200 million dollar budget was very well-spent in the quest to make the most seamless entry in the disaster film genre ever. Indeed be it the physical sets or those made by computer, darn near every shot within the film’s 158-minute runtime looks phenomenal and the CGI merges wonderfully. Indeed this is a definitive entry in the world of effects and it really is a shame that it didn’t get an Oscar nod, but when your competition that year was Avatar, District 9, and Star Trek…..need I say more? Nevertheless this still shouldn’t take away from the fact that this film’s special effects, and the scale and detail of such, will leave you astonished at such sights as a plane or limo making their way through a disaster-stricken city or an aircraft carrier riding a tidal wave slams into a historic site or 4. Indeed it really is quite amazing material and because of how well it is able to function, the film overall is able to work terrifically as everything it wants to be and more.

Finally, it should also be noted that 2012 manages to have a surprisingly decent cast of actors, some more known than others, that actually play their parts sincerely instead of just letting the special effects do all the work for them. I mean I have no doubt that on the written page, this is a cast of characters which are a little bit flatter than a tire after a nail goes through it and their relationships with each other the very definition of clichéd. Yet somehow everyone involved manages to contribute some needed, but not required and most definitely isn’t overwhelming amount of depth to all the main characters at the heart of this story. This starts with an enjoyable enough performance by John Cusack as Jackson Curtis. Indeed there is a relatability to this role of the everyday guy who finds himself, with his family in tow, encountering one calamity after another in their mission to find safety. Yet even though, in all fairness, the possibility of all these escapes being purely Hollywoodized for maximum potency and impact, they still are quite engaging and entertaining on the level that they are supposed to for this film which can also be said for the relationship Cusack’s character has with his family throughout the film. We as an audience also get to see a dynamic pairing in the form of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oliver Platt as they construct for audiences an astonishingly strong protagonist/antagonist back-and-forth with each other which is only made possibly by both thespians playing their parts with a terrific level of integrity and almost becoming their characters so to speak. Yet between the two, Ejiofor fares slightly better as the heroic and morally upstanding Adrian Helmsley. Indeed not only does he provide a lovely degree of   thoughtfulness to the role, but he also gives this film a morally sound heart and soul that it most desperately needs.  Out of everyone in the cast though, the biggest surprise would have to be Woody Harrelson as Charlie Frost. Indeed this is a brilliant example of a gifted thespian having an absolute blast with a smaller yet memorable role that seems perfectly suited for them, and making it work with absolutely everything that they’ve got. In fact if there is a semi-bland performance to be found, it would have to be Danny Glover as the first US President to have the personality of Eeyore if he had permanently lost his tail and who just seems to be checking off various boxes that fit this particular archetype, but in all fairness he does give it his best and the character should have been written from the start.

All in all, 3 years prior to the year that is the name of this film, audiences worldwide were treated to a giant, but not entirely idiotic doomsday film that is far and away from being a disaster itself even if the vast majority seemed determined to give it grief simply because it wasn’t a masterpiece on the level of a film like say Casablanca. No this film is not Casablanca, though in all fairness it really doesn’t aspire to be either, but heck if this film not only isn’t giant, amusing, and even moving in certain moments, but also a grade-A popcorn flick that delivers on what it promised audiences it was while also not trying to be something that it isn’t. Indeed this film may have its fair amount of flaws, I don’t know of a whole lot of films which don’t, but it is easy to overlook them especially when they are shadowed significantly by the magnitude, special effects work, and even heart which can be found in the middle of all the clichés that are typical for this genre of film.  Thus this film by disaster genre icon Roland Emmerich may be the deliverer of bad news to the doorsteps to a lot of the characters in this film, but to audiences worldwide it is the carrier of one of the year 2009’s most engaging, and just plain entertaining cinematic outings. On a scale of 1-5 I give 2012 a solid 3.5 out of 5.