2012 is the latest Roland Emmerich film, the man behind such blockbuster hits as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. The great thing about an Emmerich film, is that you pretty much get what you expect, and what you expect is grand spectacle with enough plot and character to keep you interested and enjoying events for the running time. When he makes his disaster movies, he's not setting out to change the world (Well, not outside the cinema, anyway), he's not usually trying to force a message down our throats and he's not trying to tell us his movies are great works of art. Emmerich sets out to entertain, and usually that is exactly what he does, in the grandest style.
2012 is loosely tied into the Mayan prophecy that some kind of world-changing event will happen in that year. Debate ranges as to what this change could be, but of course popular theories latch on to Armageddon in one form or another. The reason in this film, is based around solar activity that heats the Earth's core, causing the planet to re-form its surface in a series of cataclysmic events. As with other Emmerich films, the story jumps between a number of different groups, and how events affect them. Though in this case, 2012 avoids the usual pacing problems of such plot structures. The core group really are the ones who we follow for most of the running time, while the others are shown for shorter periods, and for relevance to the plot. It avoids needlessly splitting up events to endlessly tell a multitude of varying tales, as other disaster movies do. The main character is author Jackson Curtis, played by John Cusack (Con Air, Grosse Pointe Blank, 1408). In a round about way he discovers what is happening, and learns of the plan by multiple governments to save a select number of people. In the process he must save his children, bond once again with his ex-wife, and survive till the birth of a new world.
So what doesn't work, in 2012? The premise for starters. This has both a positive and negative aspect on the plot. Firstly, it is completely ludicrous. Emmerich asked a leading scientist about the possibility that nutrinos from a Solar storm could heat the Earth's core. He was informed that it was impossible, and that the only way they could do what he wanted, was if they were mystically 'mutated' nutrinos, and as a result, you can have them do anything. So Emmerich went for this option. On the plus side, I was extremely happy to see a reason for planetary doom that wasn't linked to some kind of ecological and/or social message of “oh, we evil humans caused it ourselves”. In that respect, I can pretty much forgive the premise, given that the film doesn't dwell too much on that aspect of things. The film also has one-too-many “Narrowly escaping disaster as it chases us by literally only a few feet” moments. We expect the excitement and fun of these scenes, but a couple of them are so similar that it becomes repetitious. Lastly, I did feel that the “underwater” finale (I won't give anything away) just dragged a little too long. It should have been sharper and more quickly paced, before it lost its tension and excitement.
In most other respects, I have to admit, that I enjoyed 2012. There are quite a few similarities to the classic novel and film When Worlds Collide, but these are in its favour. Sure, it's a big, dumb disaster movie, but it does it with style and some of the most impressive and awe inspiring moments set to screen. Maybe it abounds with clichés, rarely does anything character-wise outside of our expectations, and lacks subtlety, but between its fun characters and doomsday story, it does so with such enthusiasm and drive that it holds itself up proudly to say: “You know what? I am what I am, but I'm damn good fun!”.
For all its simplicity and occasionally daft moments, I have to admit it has been a long time since I truly felt myself on the edge of my seat, holding my breath at tense and exciting moments. 2012 lavishes them all over the place, with style and a sense of grand fun. If you can shut your brain off for a couple of hours and embrace your suspension of disbelief, you could do far worse than enjoy the good old fashioned joy ride that is 2012.