Uh. OK. Well, first let’s address what this movie did well, like the disappointed parents we are (or at least that I am), recognizing that the negative feedback won’t be useful or constructive if it isn’t preceded by something positive. This movie did big screen disaster very well. Maybe it did it the best. I mean, sure, you could literally see the green screen at all times, and it felt a lot like watching those interstitial narrative movies on a videogame where you think to yourself “these graphics are good enough that they make me excited for how good graphics are GOING to be in the future.” Because sometimes the graphics were not actually THAT good. But they were exciting. I am sure that if you had to escape the Apocalypse from inside the Matrix that it would look a lot like this. And technical difficulties aside, there was a decent 45 minute stretch in the middle of the movie where everyone shut the fuck up for awhile, and you could just look at the pretty screensavers of mankind’s last stand. The world ends not with a bang, but with flying John F. Kennedy toasters.
Is that good enough, 2012? Do you feel positively reinforced enough that we can be honest with you now? Get ready to download my blog.
What the fuck was this movie?
One could (and one does) make the argument that you go into a Roland Emmerich movie knowing what to expect, and that the point of the movie is, as already described, the epic existential pornography of massive global destruction. You are, the argument goes, going for the spectacle, and to draw the porn analogy to its logical conclusion: who cares why the pizza boy blew up the White House? The point is that he is here now, and he has a double-dong of annihilation in his hand.
And that argument–which is not an argument that I subscribe to personally but–would be fine if this movie was a tight and reasonable hour and a half in which the world was destroyed and a couple people survived (because duh, I’m not an idiot, even I know how this works) and we all went home feeling the rush of having our eyes fucked in a respectful and unindulgent amount of time. But 2012, which begins in 2009, seems to have been filmed in real time. I’m pretty sure its working title was Timecode 2: 2012. I would not have been surprised if by the end of the movie the world actually was covered in water. Those polar ice caps are going to take time to melt but they’re not going to take THIS MUCH time.
And so the “exciting” spectacle of the movie is buried in the rubble of plot development and philosophical arguments, and that is where things REALLY start to fall apart. The collapse of Los Angeles was nothing as compared to the collapse of this movie’s empty cipher heroes and ideological underpinnings. I hope that little girl doesn’t die, because she collects hats! (And as one friend pointed out after the screening, it is incredible that the last piece of information the movie leaves us with is the fact that John Cusack’s stupid daughter doesn’t need diapers anymore. Thank you, end of the world!) Religion not only can’t help you in a crisis, it will literally steam-roller over you to death! Ugh, sure. Congratulations on having just completed your one-credit survey course in existentialist absurdity, Roland Emmerich, I am sure your mother is very proud of you.
Things really get bad at the end when the movie stops trying to implicitly make some kind of point about whatever, and starts making explicit moral arguments that it is simply not smart enough to support. So Chiwetel Ejiofor finally decides, three years into being the president’s right hand man in developing an evacuation plan, that the evacuation plan is morally unjust because people are buying their way to survival! He probably has a point! “Well,” the suddenly evil geologist Oliver Platt who also apparently just appointed himself President because that is how government works, “If you want to give your ticket away to a couple of Chinese workers be my guest.” And what does Chiwetel Ejiofor do? He literally SHRUGS. Don’t be ridiculous, Oliver Platt! Of course he’s not going to give his tickets away! And especially not to Chinese workers! (SIDENOTE: while both Chiwetel Ejiofor and his girlfriend were shocked and dismayed that people could purchase their survival, they had no problem when Oliver Platt said that everyone had been selected through EUGENICS.) When Chiwetel Ejiofor gets to his room in the government A.R.K. he discovers that it’s big enough to save 10 people! Outrageous! Oskar Schindler would hate this room! And yet, does he bring 10 people onto the ship to save in his room? No. He gets mad for a second, and then he takes calls on his cellphone. Because obviously the cellphones still work, four minutes before the Earth is completely covered in water. Even on the bridge, when Chiwetel Ejiofor is having some reservations about the moral implications of escaping on the ship while billions, literally billions of people die, he doesn’t actually do ANYTHING about it until he seems some of those billions of people fighting like animals on the docks. “Oh,” he finally thinks, “those people are also going to die.” Well, yes they are. As did BILLIONS OF PEOPLE ALREADY. (But luckily not John Cusack’s stupid family, oh phew, I am so glad they did not die because I am emotionally attached to them now that I know how much the little boy texts his stepdad just like all normal little boys do). Ejiofor does successfully make an argument for getting more people on the ship, or whatever, (“Russia and Germany and Spain agree to OPEN THE GATES!”), although I should point out that in the movie’s final scene, he and his girlfriend still share a “10 person” room between the two of them. The Chinese workers have apparently been left to fight it out in the overcrowded steerage hallways.
But even for people who did not want to think about anything that this movie might or might not be trying to say because they feel that you shouldn’t overanalyze big budget Hollywood action-adventure movies (because if you overanalyze it, then the people who made it won’t be able to enjoy their millions of dollars?), this movie was just superficially so LAZY! Take the part where Woody Harrelson says “you should download my blog.” Really? I mean, that is probably my favorite part of the movie, so I guess it all worked out in the end, but are you really going to tell me that after spending 200 million dollars on a movie in which literally hundreds of people were involved, no one stopped to say “hey, you know what, that’s not what people say”? That is just one example, but the whole movie was just wall-to-wall who cares, the dumb-dumbs won’t know the difference! And if the writers and directors of the movie don’t have any respect for my intelligence, why should I pretend to respect theirs? Although I do appreciate the effort that must have gone into the planning of this movie to figure out how to “logically” (so logically) fit in a dozen superhot sports cars into a movie about the Apocalypse. They did it! And how come in all of Roland Emmerich’s movies, 15 minutes after the climax, everything immediately goes back to normal. “The waters are receding faster than we anticipated.” Are they? Are the make-believe waters fantasy-receding faster than you imaginary anticipated?” Well that is good, because otherwise I was going to wonder why you thought it was worthwhile after the destruction of all the planet’s resources (and people) to waste fuel on helicopters hovering around the escape ships for NO REASON.
Of course, Roland Emmerich will probably never top my favorite disaster movie scene of all time, in The Day After Tomorrow, when Jake Gyllenhaal is CHASED DOWN A HALLWAY by some ICE, and only manages to slam the door at the very last second, thus keeping the ice OUT. Ice uses doors, you guys, so run. But clearly Roland Emmerich is going to keep trying. He knows that a worse, and dumber scene is out there, he just needs to find it. Maybe next time.