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Posts Tagged ‘2012 (the movie not the year)’

John Cusack spends a very long time running away from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, using a wider variety of vehicles than one would have believed possible, in Roland Emmerich’s latest unleashing of the SF storyteller’s darkest desires, 2012. You tend to forgive him, and the film, the silliness of this, simply because – hey. It’s John Cusack. And this in a nutshell reveals the cleverness of the movie.

Having run the gamut of alien invaders, giant monsters, and – er – really bad weather, Emmerich’s latest assault on civilisation (not to mention your eardrums) is triggered by a once-in-every-64,000 years astronomical alignment, which causes solar flares, which in turn cause the core of the Earth to swell up, with unfortunate results for nearly anyone you care to mention. (My initial reaction on hearing this was ‘Bugger, does this mean I have to start taking Russell Grant seriously?’) Luckily noble young boffin Adrian (hard-to-spell but reliable Chiwetel Ejiofor) is on the case and tips off the US Government. Many scenes of earnest young aides sticking secret dossiers in front of incredulous politicos and saying ‘Sir, you need to read this now‘ ensue.  

Luckily for Cusack’s character, Jackson Curtis (who must spend all his time when not fleeing the apocalypse being mistaken for a rapper with a speech impediment), and his slightly dysfunctional family (shades of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, but less irksome here), he is tipped off to the situation by a deranged hippy (Woody Harrelson) while on a camping trip. Hey, go with it. He learns of a government plan to ensure the survival of the race by building ginormous ships somewhere secret. Inevitably, these arks are being paid for by rich people in return for a place on the passenger list, which guarantees that the only survivors will be the biggest bunch of sociopathic bastards you could possibly imagine (yes, the Duke of Edinburgh’s on the list).

(I was rather reminded of Ben Elton’s Stark, which has a very similar plot – the punchline here being that, having survived the end of the world, the assembled rich bastards find each others’ company so horrific that half of them get murdered and the other half commit suicide. No such poetic justice here, alas.)

It’s all a little bit familiar from Emmerich’s previous oeuvre, not to mention things like Deep Impact – a constipated-looking Danny Glover pops up as a very un-Obama-ish Prez, presumably because Morgan Freeman’s already played this part and didn’t want to do it again.  But once the laying-in of plot is all done, Emmerich lets rip with the SFX budget with jaw-dropping results: Los Angeles flops into the ocean as the San Andreas fault goes berserk, Yellowstone goes off like a nuke, Hawaii drowns under molten lava, and so on and so on. This kind of movie is solely about the effects work – it stands or falls by it, no matter how good the plot, dialogue, and acting is – and here 2012 delivers in spades. I am a jaded viewer of too many popcorn effects movies, but the visuals here are astonishing, and pleasingly have the kind of almost absurd quality I suspect the end of days will probably possess.

'Aaargh! There's no escape! We're going to be playing one-dimensional characters for the entire movie!'

It’s easy to overlook that Emmerich is simply very, very good at this kind of movie – of course the characters are shallow, of course you know from the start who’s going to live and die, and of course a lot of the non-FX scenes are mawkish (there’s a particularly grim ‘I’ve had a helluva life… I love you, son’  bit in this one), but it’s involving, not without some good jokes, and the pacing and intercutting of the plot strands is excellent.

Neither is it entirely bereft of depth and poignancy – some may think I’m overstating this, but after a summer comprised of aberrations like G.I Joe with all the depth of a shadow on a cloudy day, the merest nod in this direction is more than welcome. To be fair, the film awkwardly skirts round the ‘most of the survivors are money-grabbing scumbags’ issue in a fairly contemptible fashion, but none of them get many lines except Oliver Platt as the Heartless Man in a Suit who so often pops up in this sort of movie and is shouted down in the climax by the Voice of Humanity characters (Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in this case).

It does outstay its welcome a bit, and the climax is terribly overwrought and more than a little contrived, but in this movie I was able to relax and enjoy polished and reliable storytelling on the most lavish and epic scale. It doesn’t have the brain or heart or wit of something like District 9, but it does everything you’d expect it to do from seeing the publicity, and does it very well too. I wait with bated breath to see what variety of horrors Emmerich lets loose in his next outing – giant mutant sun-eating star goats, anyone?

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