Review: 2012 Slightly More Big and Fun Than Dumb

2012 is the rare case of a bad film that I'm nevertheless obliged to recommend you see. And really, the first two hours are pretty solid, it's only in the last 40 minutes or so that the story slides directly off the rails. But the special effects? Superb. The acting? Passable? The logic? Uh, not applicable? I mean, there are clearly logic holes you could drive a medium-sized aircraft carrier through, but the film is asking you to suspend disbelief, and you'll either do this or be miserable. Therein lies the dilemma. 2012 is an "event" film, and it's been months since we've had one of those available, so I'm tentatively recommending it while pointing out it's fairly silly and slightly ridiculous.

If you've seen the trailer then you've already been exposed to heavy spoilers. But suffice to say the ancient Mayans were right and we're all doomed. To the film's credit, it doesn't dwell much on the facts of the matter, choosing instead to throw out a bevy of slightly related scientific terms. Neutrinos, solar flares, the Earth's core heating up -- just go with it, because clearly to get science involved would get in the way of people running away from earthquakes in limos. 2012 focuses on the plight of John Cusack, his ex-wife, and their two kids. Oh, plus the stepdad, who is actually a pretty nice guy, another feather in the cap for 2012, avoiding what would have been an easy and typical villain. There's about a dozen other bit characters, the most prominent of which is Chiwetel Ejiofor's scientific advisor to the president. Chiwetel discovered the initial problem (with the help of some industrious scientists studying a copper mine in India) way back in 2009. Thus, much of the time frame is coming directly from his predictions, a plot point that proves crucial as the film progresses.

2012 is good pulp. You've always wanted to see an airport runway falling away from a plane desperately trying to take off, and Roland Emmerich has granted your wish, many times over. You've probably considered what California would look like if it fell into the ocean (a la Warren Zevon's classic song) and Roland is happy to oblige there, too. Aircraft carrier flying into a major American symbol? You got it. World landmarks reduced to rubble? Sure thing. It's Emmerich's zeal for destruction that puts him on another level. He's not just blowing S*** up, he's blowing things up that matter. 2012 does take a slight emotional toll; you're forced to consider what would happen if basic societal functions broke down in a way that Independence Day and Armageddon never got around to. Now, if you're the sort of person who can distill some of the major action beats down to "chase scenes on roids" then you might have trouble here. I was able to enjoy the pretty destruction. But I know that's not for everyone.

Sadly, they're forced to end the film, and this clearly proved difficult. I mean, how would you end your own personal "end of days" film? See? It's not so easy, is it? But the one thing we must ding the film on is the absolute "schmaltzy to the maximum" dialogue efforts over the final 40 minutes. Chestnuts such as "But, that's a SUICIDE MISSION!!" have no place in contemporary cinema. It's a weak choice that belittles the massive efforts put forth from the CGI team. I've shouted it from the mountaintops over the past decade: get J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon to look at every script where the production budget surges over $150 million! It should just be a Hollywood law. I mean, why not? Why not have solid lines for your actors to say? Why not have world-class writers take a crack at getting you to the finish line? 2012 could have been an epic modern classic if not for the failings in what should have been the culmination of the action. As it stands it's an interesting, though flawed, film.

Still, check out 2012 to see where we're at as the decade winds down. This is easily Emmerich's best film since Independence Day, as 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow, and Godzilla were laughable. In many ways 2012 is like that Labrador retriever puppy you haven't quite trained yet. She's beautiful to look at, she smiles and attempts to tackle you when you get home at night, but she also destroys the furniture when you're at work because she can't stand to be alone. That's 2012, wagging its tail, wanting to play, oblivious to the carnage it has caused while left to its own devices. Give it a scratch behind the ears and a little treat; 2012 means well, is probably a good dog, and will try to do better next time.

Grade: B-