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Posted by Cantankerous Panda on April 16, 2010

2012 (2009)

From a classic to a… trashic? Can I do that? This is a review of the “disaster-porn” film made by one Roland Emmerich of Independence Day fame and The Day After Tomorrow notoriety. Yes, I have seen both of those movies, and while Independence Day was at least campy enough to be a fun action film, the last two “the world is out to get us” movies were, well, not. I never thought this would be an excellent movie, but I was hoping to get a bit more silly entertainment from the roughly 2.5 hour-long dractionbeast (drama+action+beast). I almost feel silly writing any sort of review for this movie, but I DID sit through it all, and I DID shout at my TV (I don’t do that in theatres, mind you), so I figured I might as well share my thoughts with all of you. You’re welcome.

2012 Brazil Jesus Statue

Roland Emmerich: "Where is your God now?"

Premise: The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. Clearly, this means that Mayans knew that the planets would align and our entire universe would interact in such a way that it totally… messes our shit up, basically. As in, the world “ends” for some reason. According to this film, it’s because our planet’s stability disappears and everything that we ever knew about the world, and relied upon to build our various societies, goes completely out the window. That’s the gist of the film. But don’t you worry your pretty little heads–there are plans put in place to save at least some of humankind (provided, of course, that you are deemed important enough or rich enough to deserve a ticket)! But this all sounds just plain silly if we don’t have some sort of subplot drama that forces us to focus on at least one specific person in this apocalyptic mess.

Enter Jackson Curtis, portrayed (sadly) by John Cusack. Curtis is a failed author, even though he’s been published. He drives a limo when he isn’t drinking or attempting to write what I can only assume is another unsuccessful novel, though I don’t know if we ever actually see him trying to write his new book. It’s certainly mentioned a number of times. Oh, and I should probably tell you that his apparently obsessive writing style is the reason why he’s divorced–his two kids live with his ex-wife Kate, played by Amanda Peet, and possibly her live-in boyfriend? I never really got the full details on the status of her relationship with Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), but it’s clear that he is the “evil” stepfather character that threatens Jackson’s confidence as a father simply because Gordon is clearly better at playing dad than Jackson is. Which means, of course, that Gordan is another good guy who gets more or less trampled on (mostly by situation rather than other characters) simply because he’s the “other man” and his potential fiancee is still in love with her ex-husband. Sound a bit familiar? Again, this isn’t really spoiling things. John Cusack is clearly going to be the hero in this movie, and while there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between Cusack and Peet, it’s pretty naive to think that anything other than the trite “happy family” conclusion is going to come out of a blockbuster disaster flick like this one.

Then there’s a government “conspiracy” of sorts, as leaders from all the ‘important’ nations knew about this impending doom for a few years and were building arks to save however many people they can fit into the luxury suites. Their prediction date was off, though, and suddenly there’s this insane push for everyone to run to the arks ASAP… and not tell the public because they just do not matter. Classy. Our main character here is a scientist, Adrian Helmsley (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor from Serenity), who is advising the President (Danny Glover). This means we’re seeing the whole thing play out from two different sides: the Average Joe “I don’t know what the hell is going on but I do know I have to save my family” angle, and the behind-the-scenes in-the-know angle. The second angle is important, really. It’s basically needed for any of these movies in order to make sense– you have to have the science guy explain why all these different things are happening, but you need to do it in such a way that makes sense in a film, as opposed to having some random person pop up on screen and say to the audience, “This is what is happening here”. It’s always fun to hear the “science” behind these movies, though. Ohhhh the sciencey drama! Don’t you know that science and politics do not mix?! And what about humanity?! Ethics?! THESE ARE WORDS THAT POLITICIANS DO NOT KNOW! The scientist with the heart of gold (who clearly is going to get with the President’s daughter, played by Thandie Newton) vs. the evil bureaucrat (played by Oliver Platt, who is ALWAYS the bad guy in these situations)! WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST LOVE EACH OTHER AND SAVE HUMANITY?!

2012 Science Man

He blinded her with science, and then they fell in love.

There are all sorts of convoluted plot devices that force various characters from different parts of the story to meet “by chance” and exchange enough information to completely shape all of their decisions and actions when faced with each new predicament of certain doom. One of the best instances of this is the chance encounter with the totally baffling and random character named Charlie Frost, portrayed hilariously by Woody Harrelson. He was, by far, the best part of the film. Charlie broadcasts his own radio station from within Yosemite National Park (I believe), and sounds like a conspiracy theory nut-job. He’s also, for some amazingly unexplained reason, obsessed with pickles. I shit you not– that is one of his defining characteristics, because Harrelson isn’t on screen for very long and in two out of his three scenes, we are purposefully shown this pickle enthusiasm. But I digress. Charlie interacts with Jackson during Jackson’s camping trip with his kids (in order to try and bond with them from outside their tent while they lie within it, it seems) and mentions all sorts of useful information.

2012 Bonding with the kids

Ah, family time.

This information is, of course, written off by Jackson at first as the ramblings of a crazy pickle-obsessed parknut, but it comes in handy later when he realizes that it was all TRUE. But this isn’t shocking to us because, at this point, we know Charlie is right. Mr. Science Man already told us! Now, I really, REALLY need to get a handle on myself before I end up just breaking down the movie sequence-by-sequence and telling you everything that happens. Not only does this movie not deserve such attention, but it would take me more time than I wish to devote to this movie, and you would all probably want to kill me by the end. So, let’s consider the other parts of the movie, such as… the actors, director, and screenplay!

I have a soft spot for John Cusack, and it breaks my heart that he continuously gets himself involved with terrible movies these days. I know that he defends it by saying that making schlocky films like 2012 can give him enough financial freedom to do films of “importance” (and he probably helps fund some projects he really cares about), but it doesn’t make it any less depressing for me. John is a competent actor, and I like the darkness he brings to his characters. He can deliver snark quite well, but he doesn’t come off as a misanthrope. Even though this wasn’t the ‘role of a lifetime’, he performed it well. And I know he can do the basic “running away from things” kind of action movie because he did a fine job in Con Air.

2012 or Con Air? Both had fire, a plane, and a running John Cusack.

So, kudos to Cusack for not making me hate the film even more. Amanda Peet was meh. That’s about all I have to say–I don’t know if it was just her character, her acting, or a combination of the two, but all in all, just meh. Thomas McCarthy did a fine job as the nervous substitute father, and I ended up actually rooting for his character to stay with Kate. *Wipes away a single tear* We’ll miss you, Gordie! Chiwetel Ejiofor has quite the screen presence, I have to say. He’s a bit adorable, and is very much believable when he’s playing a character with some sort of mastery in a subject. You can believe that he really is that smart and geeky, just as you can believe that he really is that good of an assassin in Serenity. Oliver Platt representing the evil government side is predictable, at best, but playing sleazy and self-interested characters works well for Platt– and I, in no way, mean that as a reflection of him as a person or his range as an actor. Danny Glover… meh, again. He wasn’t as much fun as Morgan Freeman was in Deep Impact, another terrible disaster-porn flick. And then, as I mentioned before, there was the brilliant Woody Harrelson, the highlight of the film. I wish he had been the main character. Really, I probably would have loved that film.

2012 Woody Parknut

Immediately after this shot, he takes a bite out of a pickle. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.

Child actors Liam James and Morgan Lily play Jackson and Kate’s kids, Noah and Lilly. They both did a pretty good job, though I think Morgan’s performance as a bit stronger than Liam’s. Actually, I was surprised to find that when I went to look up this impressive child actress from Henry Poole Is Here, I found that my recognition of her was due to 2012–while Morgan was just fine in 2012, she was pretty great in Henry Poole Is Here.  I will probably review that one at a later date, though. Perhaps this was because of the way her character was written and directed, which brings me to Mr. Roland Emmerich (who co-wrote the film with Harold Kloser, in addition to directing it).

Listen, Mr. Emmerich, I get it. Disaster-porn is your thing. Michael Bay does boobs and booms, and you do crazy “something destroys major cities and recognizable landmarks” kind of films. But do they have to be so bizarrely ridiculous? And do they have to be 2.5 hours long?! And why is it that natural disasters are able to chase your main characters like the shark chased the Brody family in Jaws: The Revenge?? That plot line didn’t make sense, either, but at least the shark was a living being–an animal with a brain. It doesn’t excuse the whole “revenge” premise, but it still makes more sense than watching fireballs from a volcanic eruption chasing the exact path of our main character’s fleeing vehicle.

2012 Flaming Balls of Doom

The volcano has short-range missiles and a targeting system.

Not only that, Mr. Emmerich, you also killed off characters in amazingly horrific ways and with no real purpose. I get killing off peripheral characters in a disaster movie, but you went out of your way to make us grow attached to some of them like there was a reason we should be rooting for them. You diverged a bit from the norm, which in some ways is commendable, but you did it in such a bizarre way that doesn’t match up with the rest of the conventional storytelling. And while I can appreciate that once a character’s convenient knowledge or skill no longer has a use, that character is an easy target to kill off while injecting a bit of emotion into your film, but you didn’t even do that. Sure, a couple of deaths offered some heavy emotional baggage to the film, but only for the purpose of using it to force the next plot point. That’s cheap, Mr. Emmerich. That’s cheap and dirty, and it shows a lack of love and respect for the characters you created. Which makes me wonder why I should care about your characters, as you so clearly do not. The most appalling moment to me was how you killed off Gordon simply to ensure that Jackson and Kate would ‘make their family whole again’. His death barely made a blip on any other character’s radars, and you followed up that “dramatic” death with another one during the same sequence. Why? Why overload us with “Aw, why did that person get killed off?” moments in what is meant to be another critical tension-filled crisis? IT IS TOO MUCH, MR. EMMERICH! IT IS TOO MUCH AND IT HAS TO STOP.

Do I recommend this film? No. I’m sorry, was that too blunt? I suppose if you’re like my father and you can enjoy basically any sort of fast-paced action movie as long as you’re working out while doing so, then this might suffice. But for those of you who actually value your time and your sanity, I say take a pass on this one. Unless, of course, you happen to see it on TV or you get your hands on the DVD without paying for it (or letting it take the spot of some other film in your Netflix queue) and you’re able to just catch the Woody Harrelson scenes. I hope those are available online somewhere– those scenes were just too deliciously ridiculous to hate!

Oscar-worthy comedic performance.


16 Responses to “2012”

  1. Marion said

    Now I don’t know if I want to watch this movie, it seems like I could either be extremely annoyed or try to laugh it off.

    I guess I should.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Haha. It’s definitely something to laugh at, but I wouldn’t bother wasting any money on it, and only waste your time if you have A LOT to spare :P.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Tsai said

    Hehe, there were elements I did get a good joke-laugh out of. I DID like the special effects; though it goes without saying that was the only thing they really did right. I think The Road (I think that was it?) was a good post-apocalyptic movie. Also, har; the pictures got a good laugh out of me. You should do them more often. 🙂

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Thanks for the feedback! I am glad people are digging the pics–I felt I needed to illustrate certain things with this film, but it might be harder to do with some older and/or smaller films. We’ll see how much I can do :P.

      I didn’t talk about the special effects, I realize, and I guess that’s because I’m used to them. I’ve seen Roland destroy the world before. Well, mostly America, but still. I expect him to deliver, but I have to say that The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 had that computerized feel that turns me off, as opposed to Independence Day. I’m a little scared of what the Independence Day sequel is going to be like…

      And I won’t see The Road. It looks far too bleak for me right now, and I can’t handle a movie that is just going to wear me out while watching it. There’s enough dread in my life right now as is :P.

  3. That girl that you know said

    Yeah, the movie was pretty ridiculous-in a bad way. I don’t even think Harrelson’s character saved it. And it was way too long.

  4. Fosjam said

    Also, three times they took off in a plane with the runway falling apart behind them. WHAT COINCIDENTAL TIMING.

  5. richardsblah said

    I have to tell you, I didn’t mind this movie at all. Armed with my knowledge of Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, I knew exactly what to expect. Bad dialogue, lots of carnage, bland characters. You’d have to be a hell of an optimist to expect anything more than that from a Roland Emmerich movie. As the tagline states, ‘We were warned’. 🙂

    I watched 2012 to see the pretty lights and cool explosions and I got what I came for. Yay!

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Har. I didn’t expect it to be GOOD, but I expected it to be at least moderately more enjoyable than The Day After Tomorrow. I can actually watch Independence Day numerous times, but I cannot stomach TDAT and I doubt I’ll give 2012 another go, unless I am lucky enough to just catch the snippets of Woody Harrelson :P.

      I wasn’t even that impressed with the effects, to be honest. I guess I’m getting over his whole “LOOK AT HOW I SYSTEMATICALLY DESTROY AN ICONIC CITY” gimmick :P.

      • richardsblah said

        I guess it must be the anarchist in me. I never get bored of watching civilisation drown, explode, burn, or fall into the earth.

        Look! An entire city just fell into the sea! Yay! Pass the popcorn. 😛

        • Cantankerous Panda said

          Haha, well it’s not that I cannot enjoy such things… it’s just that it felt SO much like The Day After Tomorrow in execution. I don’t know, I was just… underwhelmed, I guess. I mean, I clearly wanted to see it for the disaster-porn aspect, but it just didn’t satisfy me. That or it wasn’t enough to distract me from the awfulness of what was going on. Though, honestly, nothing beats the running from wolves + insta-freeze sequence in TDAT (in terms of awfulness).

  6. richardsblah said

    By the way, I just posted a horror movie blog. Take a look, Panda. 🙂

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Sorry for the delay– it’s been a hell of a week or so. I’ll head over there right away– and be prepared for a new post coming sometime soonish (tomorrow or Friday, I think–maybe even BOTH!!!). 😀

      • richardsblah said

        I’ll keep ’em peeled for the new stuff. Hope your ‘hell of a week’ wasn’t a bad one. 🙂

        • Cantankerous Panda said

          It was kinda mixed, in a way. More just hectic and time/energy consuming. It’ll be crazy again for a significant chunk of the upcoming week, as well, but I’ll deal with it :P. I’ll try to get another review ready to be posted on Sunday, if at all possible.

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