Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser
Starring: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover
The year of 2012 provided quite the scare, much like 2000, where predictions had the world ending. Seeing as you are reading this review, these prophecies obviously did not happen. The case for believing that the world would end in 2012 came from a Mayan calendar that prophesized the end of the world. That idea spawned this film and the studios enlisted the only director who could bring this story to life.
Working as a chauffeur for a Russian billionaire, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) takes his kids to Yellowstone National Park where they learn from a conspiracy theorist that the world will soon end and the government wants to cover it up. Shortly after the events at the park, massive earthquakes and tsunamis occur around the world that could wipe out humanity.
Oh 2012, what can we do without you? The genre of disaster flicks strive in how they take something that occurs naturally in the world and makes it frightening. They go to the worst-case scenario of any of these natural elements along with a political message to wrap it all up. In the case of 2012, it revolves around the spectacle of it all more than actual character work, which makes it entertaining but does not make for a good film.
It came together through the only director who could capture disasters, Roland Emmerich. Previously, he made Independence Day, which famously showed the White House being blown up for the first time on film. With that film, he created a cheesy 90s action film warning against the dangers of aliens. Obviously, it did not have too much of a message, but that came loud and clear with The Day After Tomorrow. That film came with a warning about climate change and how it will impact the weather patterns around the globe. Admittedly, not the greatest film but one that I truly enjoy because I buy into the characters and how it displays the ignorance of politicians in the face of science. With 2012, Emmerich employs his usual bombastic style of filmmaking and decided that he wanted to show planes flying off a crumbling tarmac and narrowly dodging tornadoes. Admittedly, it did create for spectacle but it took away from the human stakes involved. I found myself not caring as much for the characters because they simply served the purpose of being the dummies in those car commercials that show the fortitude of the vehicle in crashes. They received nothing beyond basic characterization and the overreliance on this spectacle made each subsequent one less thrilling. Once that all gets taken away, not much else of interest occurs and we’re left with nothing else.
It did have a message surrounding the arks built by the world governments. As the conspiracy theorist tells Jackson about the government knowing about the end, he explains that several arks have been built that can hold 100,000 people constructed to withstand the worst conditions that could arrive in this apocalypse. That would be nice for the governments to do, except that tickets must be purchased to enter the ark and the cost for each comes to 1 billion euros per person. Something the average person could obviously not afford, but the worst aspect comes from the government not even telling people about this safe haven. It shows the malintent of the systems in place to keep the average person down, as it builds safety for those that could afford it. There’s certainly a connection there that can be made about various contemporary hot topic issues. They have no interest in causing panic amongst the average citizens while they can be safely stowed away when the worst arrives. Never a fully rounded idea, but I do appreciate that it had the willingness to try and tie in the message.
Everything else shows the ridiculous nature of the films in the genre with tsunamis the size of Mt. Everest crashing into nations and the only way to survive involves sneaking into one of these arks. Films like these continue to get made because it provides incredible escapist entertainment and the more ridiculousness they convey the better. 2012 made back nearly 4 times its budget in the box office and serves a popcorn film where the story does not matter as much as spectacle. I found myself wanting more but it did deliver in being the outrageous story it wanted to be.