2012 is everything that’s wrong with blockbuster movies perfectly encapsulated in 158 minutes. It’s an overlong, under-plotted, contrived movie that focuses more on special effects than plot, and exists as a cynical cash-grab in hopes of capitalizing in on a silly “phenomenon.” Characters? Who needs strong characters when we can watch California get destroyed for a couple of hours? 2012 is such a bore that it made me sad that I wasted my time watching it.
John Cusack is our lead, here playing an author named Jackson Curtis. He’s estranged from his family, because we need the eventual disaster to bring them together. And there is a disaster forthcoming. The Mayan calendar doesn’t go past the year 2012, so the legend goes, and that’ll mean the end of the world. In the movie, Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) helps find out that massive solar flares are causing the Earth’s core temperature to increase, and that’ll eventually destroy everything. This is in 2009. By the time the disaster hits, rich people have built ships upon which they can reside and survive the end of the world.
Jackson, meanwhile, finds this out thanks to a camping trip and meeting a conspiracy theorist played by Woody Harrelson. Soon enough, it’s time to save his family as California, and later most of the world, winds up getting destroyed by various earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other such “natural” ways of destruction. The vast majority of the movie has characters driving or flying away from things that will kill them, all while famous landmarks and locations get violently destroyed and millions of (unimportant) lives end.
The “important” lives are those of the main characters. Well, some of them. You can tell almost as soon as a character is introduced whether or not they’re going to make it to the end, since the ones who won’t serve a very specific purpose to progress the more important characters. Once they serve that purpose, they’re disposable, and are usually killed off right afterward.
Not that you’ll care, since these are some of the blandest characters you can see in the movies. You can see the tiny arcs they’ll go through coming right from the get-go, and even that isn’t handled particularly well. Given the whole “world is ending” scenario, there’s very little downtime and what there is gives us some awful, clichéd dialogue. You don’t believe any of it. These don’t feel like real people, and it’s tough to care about whether or not any of them will survive. You know they will, and yet they’re as interesting as Extra #564.
This is a Roland Emmerich disaster movie, so you basically know what you’re going to get going in. You’ll get pretty destruction scenes with top-notch special effects. The plot will suck, and the characters won’t be interesting. Any depth or symbolism is going to be heavy-handed — one of the character’s names in the film is Noah, for crying out loud — and there isn’t going to be much of it, anyway. Oh, and it’s going to be about 30-50 minutes too long.
The biggest problem that 2012 faces is that it comes across as a cynical cash-grab of a movie. It’s unlikely that you’re reading this and believe that any sort of “end of the world” scenario exists because a calendar ends, but that’s irrelevant. As a culture, we’re fascinated with this type of thing, and the 2012 phenomenon is as big as it gets. The movie exists to cash-in on the public’s obsession with that, nothing more. It might even at times become moderately entertaining, but its goal is to get free advertising and in hopes that you’ll spend your hard-earned money to see it.
A cynical cash-grab masquerading as a feature film, 2012 is representative of everything that is wrong with Hollywood blockbusters. Its plot is incredibly lacking, it’s far too long, it’s far more focused on special effects than its characters, and it’s predictable from start to finish. There are a few strong moments, most of which revolve around the shots of the world ending, but there’s so much awfulness surrounding them that it’s not worth sitting through.