The planets will align, the sun will burp fire, the earth’s surface will start to slide all over, and it’s all happening faster than expected—unless of course, you use the Mayan calendar, read New Age books, or watch this ridiculous movie. It’s two-and-a-half hours of earthquake, flood, fire, and fun for the whole family. The apocalypse becomes a theme park ride, yet again, in the hands of Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow director Roland Emmerich, never one to do anything as rash as stray from the flabbiest of formulas. There are idealistic heroes and grotesque villains, family reunions, teary goodbyes, countless near-misses, blatantly sexist divisions of labour, reams of dopey but relentlessly portentous dialogue, and rampant death and destruction. There’s also a Paris Hilton impersonator, replete with valiant chihuahua. Amanda Peet holds hands with a Tibetan lady. Woody Harrelson plays himself. They don’t call them disaster movies for nothing.
John Cusack plays a novelist and chauffer who wrote a book about Atlantis dismissed by critics for its “naïve optimism”—his words—but beloved by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s mercilessly micromanaging humanitarian geologist and advisor to US President Danny Glover—among the prophesies espoused in 2012, apparently a full term in office is really going to add some years to Barack Obama. Cusack stumbles onto Harrelson’s paranoid—but 100% correct!—apocalypse watcher and gets from him the map to the mountainous Chinese hiding place of the secret super-arks being developed by a committee of global politicians. Cusack packs up ex-wife Peet, the two kids, and the ex-wife’s new boyfriend, who thankfully knows how to fly a plane, and runs for it. They make it to China with the help of some unsavoury Russians, but will they get on the ark?
There’s lots going on in 2012, though little of it amounts to anything besides constant regurgitations of the same stale sub-Spielbergian sentimental schlock and suspense scenarios spruced up with the latest CGI scenery. What’s most annoying is that Emmerich and co-scenarist Harald Kloser don’t even make use of the more interesting items they themselves conspicuously plant in the story, such as all those wild animals being hustled into the ark, ready to make lunch of some hysterical humans, or the fact that Cusack’s seven-year-old still wets herself and has to wear diapers. A filmmaker willing to fess up to his own lust for visions of Armageddon would surely have made something more genuinely spectacular and provocative with all this—my vote would be for Paul Verhoven—but Emmerich, ever the conservative, doesn’t go all the way with anything, not the familial reconciliation story nor the gallows humour nor the horror nor the millenarian pseudo-science. You would think that a movie about the collapse of civilization might, you know, have something to say about civilization, and you'd be wrong. Not the end of world, of course, just an astonishing lack of imagination.
But you want to know what really pisses me off about 2012? All through the film everyone keeps talking about how the Mayans warned us. But take a look at the faces of those who make it onto the ark at the end—not one fucking Mayan! So much for NAFTA.