As disaster movies go, 2012 is an over-the-top blast of pedal-to-the-metal, 100 percent unadulterated hokum. It works on the nervous system, the retinas and the gut, largely avoiding the cerebral cortex and, thankfully, the tear ducts. Does 2012 confirm and continue Hollywood's death spiral of million-dollar special effects and 10-cent emotionality? Sure. Is Roland Emmerich the world's most self-indulgent moviemaker this side of James Cameron? You bet. Does he give you $12.50 worth of entertainment? Oh yeah, baby.
In lieu of a standard review of 2012 sprinkled with incisive analysis and plot points, I offer a modest list of random takeaways. The filmmaker clearly wishes to impart many life-affirming morals about love, loyalty, compassion and idealized, color-blind humanity, but here's what I got:
The cause of the worldwide cataclysm, to the degree I could follow the bogus pseudo-scientific palaver, is the sun, and not global warming, dolphin-unsafe tuna or NASCAR. Existentially speaking, I could watch 2012 completely guilt-free by virtue that this apocalypse is certified 100 percent natural: My consumption, shopping patterns and general bad manners are in no way responsible. (You can tell that I really, really don't want to give up imported beer.) So for once, it's the end of the world as we know it and I really do feel fine.
Notwithstanding all the hot air and smoke that Emmerich blows at us, there's something primitive and refreshing about the single- and simple-minded drive to survive that fuels the movie. Yes, there are any number of throwaway lines about civilization and culture, but they don't elevate or even camouflage the basic hellbent impulse to postpone death. Consequently, 2012 is free of the stultifying pretension that "great artists" like Peter Jackson and George Lucas lavished on their doltish and enervating power plays between good and evil (the multi-part The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars flicks).
While we're on the subject, it's a great relief not to encounter clone armies and other wellsprings of teen-boy angst. That's not to say there won't be a 2012 video game, which I envision as a cross between Death Race 2000 and Sim City. The bigger hurdle for the corporate multi-revenue-streamers who only see movies as one of many "platforms" will be devising and building the theme-park ride. After all, they don't want the kiddies so shaken and frightened when they disembark that they forget to cry for cotton candy and a T-shirt.
Speaking of family harmony, can we leave the damn dog at home the next time the end of the world comes a-calling? Why does every disaster movie require the pointless inclusion of a dimwit, floppy-tongued canine? What food and, um, bathroom facilities do we think will be provided for animals on the spaceship or submarine or hot-air balloon or whatever getaway vehicle we might be lucky enough to procure a seat on? I'm 100 percent attached to my pet, too -- a cat, for the record -- but I think he'll be better off with familiar surroundings and a big bowl of food as the doomsday tidal wave approaches than clutched to my chest in a panicky death-grip at the Top of the Mark. (Chugging an imported beer, of course.)
The good news is that 2012 ends the long, long, long string of movies that gave us Presidents (from Kevin Kline to Morgan Freeman to Michael Douglas) who were far more charismatic and confidence-inspiring than the then-current occupant of the White House. Danny Glover plays a kindly, low-key -- and yes, black -- Chief Executive here, but he sure isn't Barack Obama. For once, the reality is better than the fantasy.
The secret is finally out: Woody Harrelson elevates every movie he's in. He has a knack for pinpointing and personifying the tone of a movie. He's a hoot as a loony-tunes conspiracy obsessive whose theory, um, turns out to be dead-on.
On the other hand, can we retire, at least for a while, the ticking time-bomb school of cinematic crises? There are more countdown-to-catastrophe clocks in 2012 than in the entire James Bond oeuvre. Check my math, if you like, but I'm 100 percent sure.
2012 opens everywhere Friday, November 13, 2009.