By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures
2012 is Roland Emmerich’s masterpiece. He’s come up with the most epic destruction scenes and gotten the right balance of social metaphor and general pacing along with the good stuff.
Judging by the first reviews for the film, the director does (finally) succeed at making a film that pulls off some realistic destruction. If only the characters could live up to the environments in which they are placed.
It starts out with the buildup. Okay science, okay geology. I’ll take your word for it. The worldwide preparations are cool. To me, preserving our art counts as finding supplies. It’s basically preemptively providing artistic supplies for the future. Then the final explanation of what’s going to happen through a crazy kook’s blog is funny. IT’s Mr. DNA for the YouTube age.
They construct the broken family through exposition. Yeah, Jackson (John Cusack) is an unreliable dad. He’s still the playful rule breaking John Cusack character though, down to the constructed bumbling and breaking of lamps as he wakes up disheveled.
They don’t make you go through all this setup alone though. There are a few fun disaster tidbits like a bit cruise liner tilting on the dock. They have fun with their own exposition when, after blatantly talking about Kate (Amanda Peet)’s broken marriage, the line “I feel like something is pulling us apart” pays off literally. He knows these are all standards. He’s just playing. Oh, and Jackson wrote a book about selfless optimism saving humanity. That’s not a coincidence either.
Then we get to see the greatest disaster sequence ever conceived. Outrunning a crumbling suburb and city is amazing. The sequence is all CGI but it’s still awesome CGI. The obstacles they think of to throw at the escaping heroes are brilliant. They have some gags we’ve really never seen before, and the ones we have seen before are just better here.
The film is full of the closest calls ever constructed by Hitchcokian suspense structure. Those are the Independence Day moments. As if you thought Cusack was going to perish an hour into the movie. Yet it still works, that moment of “Daddy made it!”
By the way, everyone who’s not starring in the movie… dead. If you’re not in the plane with John Cusack and Amanda Peet, sorry. We’re watching you get crushed from the cockpit window. They even specify all the little details, like you see all the animated people in the compartments of boats that flip over.
They hit the moral issues too, more in the way that they have to than that they really buy it. It’s the concept that the abstract good of securing the best of humanity’s existence costs us the moral right of saving all of our fellow man. Of course, the government’s plan is corrupt in a movie villain way, so it’s not really the hard issue. It’s obvious that the characters should save everybody and the film will work it out for them.
They can’t really top the crumbling city, even with the flood finale. Once you realize it’s never going to get better than the Act 1 break, the movie becomes a standard journey with disaster highlights. They have to get to China where the backup plan is in place.
It’s still a fun ride though, downright silly at times like the fake Ahnuld on the news. But, when it gives the FU to the A-holes we’ve hated the whole film, it still works. Yeah, it’s obvious but the movie is primal, not tactful. That’s okay. It feeds into our instincts, and that’s a level on which movie are welcome to operate.