2012 wasn't quite apocalyptic at the box office, but it definitely busted down more than a few doors. People came in tidal waves to the movies this past weekend looking to see the world get destroyed in a major way, and boy, did they ever experience that. The facts are these: The visual effects are astounding; audiences may finally take notice of Chiwetel Ejiofor; and after ID4, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich's disaster fetish has developed a creepy residue.
Now, my jaw doesn't often drop -- but my jaw dropped in the first hour of this movie's heinous destruction sequences. Unfortunately, what is a dumb and horrifyingly fun movie in the first hour (and change) turns a little sour in the last hour. This isn't exactly a movie with a lot of brain cells. I understand that. But it couldn't afford to lose any more than it already had. It does. Still, I'm not really mad at 2012. I was able to sit back and appreciate the gloriousness of it.
My biggest problem is the handling of America's most cuddly teddy bear, Oliver Platt. Other than John Cusack's character, he is one of the few people in the movie with half a brain. He is portrayed here as a villain. Why? Because he has this psychotic view that the most important thing is to ensure the survival of humanity. The nerve! He has some very tough decisions to make and he doesn't err on the side of niceness when the stakes are so high. There are a couple of people I wanted to kill in this movie and despite his strong performance, it starts with Chiwetel Ejiofor's character. He's a deeply confused human being. He doesn't make sense, even to himself. He raises the alarm bells and tells the White House "we have to move NOW" and evacuate the president. So OK, Platt works with him to begin the evacuation process. But then Ejiofor gets mad at him when Platt refuses to wait for the speaker of the House, whose whereabouts are clear to no one. For those of you who haven't seen the movie, WARNING: SPOILERS. For those same people, this is how the scene played out, with my edits:
PLATT: You did say we had to get out of here immediately, right?
PLATT: Like, we have no time and should evacuate the president right now, right?
PLATT: OK, let's tell the pilot to go then.
EJIOFOR: Wait. What about the speaker of the House?
PLATT: We don't ... even know where he is, dude. Didn't you say we had to leave right now?
PLATT: Like, we are in mortal danger right now and we should leave immediately, right? Like, we could die if we don't leave right this second?
PLATT: OK ... so ... let's ... go.
EJIOFOR: How dare you! Who are you to play God? Where is your humanity? Where is the speaker of the House?
PLATT: I'm going to murder you right now where you stand. Please close the blinds.
Ejiofor plays a moron posing as the film's moral authority. Well, this moral authority makes one of the worst decisions in the history of mankind, risking all of civilization on a whim; he is nearly responsible for the extinction of the human race. The long and short of it is this: everyone who isn't on these giant, secret government high-tech arks is going to die. There's 28 minutes on the shot clock. In 28 minutes a mega-tsunami will obliterate the entire area. But one of the arks had an accident, so they didn't let people on board. They should have just let them on board one of the other arks when there was a lot more time, but no one said anything. I guess it took a while for righteousness to kick in or something. Now thousands of people are in a panic, desperate to live, wanting to get on one of the other arks. Ejiofor wants to let them in. Now, if you've seen the mass of people, you would know the process of letting them in wouldn't take five minutes. It's like the line to Space Mountain at Disney World. At this point it's 25 minutes (if we rush and everything goes smoothly). We are talking about a very close shave here. Usually I would be on Ejiofor's side -- let those people have a chance, damnit! -- but given the limited amount of time they had at that point, I'm not ready to portray Platt as the villain just because he didn't think it was a smart thing to do.
I just put myself in Platt's shoes and thought, So let me get this straight. You want to take a very real risk that all of humanity could be wiped out, because you decided 28 minutes before the most historical tsunami impact in the history of civilization ... that we should chance opening the gates to refugees and maybe get everybody in with a minute or two to spare. And we should also assume nothing will go wrong in what has to be the worst case of Murphy's Law in Mayan calendar history. Hey, count me in!
Of course, they let the people in and the remnants of humanity survive -- barely. Naturally, Ejiofor is a hero for it. Look, I'm happy it worked out and all that, but my goodness, the human race was mere seconds from annihilation. How awesome would it have been if everyone just gets killed because of his act of "humanity"? Ironic, eh? Yeah, Emmerich doesn't do ironic.
Then you have the moron that is Gordon. See, Gordon is the stepdad to Cusack's kids. Cusack, Gordon, Amanda Peet, and the kids know they are doomed if they don't get on a plane to China. Like, they are all very, very, very, very clear on the fact that if they don't hop on a plane to China immediately ... they are all dead. By now they have just barely escaped raining volcanic blasts and earthquakes that leveled all of Pasadena and Yellowstone. To say they were already pushing their luck is the mother of all understatements. So yeah, they need a plane and they need a plane bad. So when the opportunity to, you know, live, arises and a Russian pilot who knows the whereabouts of a plane tells them he can save them but he needs a co-pilot, what does Gordon (who has a some flight lessons under his belt) say? "No! No! I cannot co-pilot. No!"... WHAT??? WHAT??? Now, he said "no" but what I really heard was: "No! Please find another desperate family that wants to live. I'm OK with watching my stepchildren blown to smithereens. I don't love them. I don't love my wife. I don't love my life. I love Satan. I know my only chance at survival depends on me speaking in the affirmative, but I am a diabolical or insanely idiotic person. Either way, KILL ME AND MY FAMILY NOW!"
I don't care if my only flight lesson was trying to connect to that cursed fuel plane in Nintendo's Top Gun, when that Russian guy asked me if I can co-pilot, I say freaking yes. Yes. I can do it all. I will fly a Twinkie into Beijing if I have to. I'm that good. Now please direct me to the nearest jumbo jet. We will figure the rest out once we're in the air.
I traded text messages with a friend after the movie, mainly focusing on the interesting design concepts behind the arks themselves; here are just a few I received:
The overt sexism was great! The whole movie, men privately huddle in their little corners while the women wait to be told what to do and how to do it. Let's hear it for the Y chromosome!
And what ship has an engine that won't go based on gates being down? How would you even design that? Just imagine that convo with the builder. "Wait, don't you just want the engines to work no matter what? No? OK, whatever, I'm slave labor."
Yeah! Just throw all the money to the billion cameras! Screw the propulsion system!
You get the idea. You might be thinking that, with all my issues, I didn't enjoy myself during this movie. But you couldn't be more wrong.
There's an urban legend that baseball great Wade Boggs once drank 64 beers on a 5 1/2-hour flight across the country. That's like a beer every five minutes. For 330 minutes. Grotesque? Yes. Astonishing? Yes. That's 2012. Now imagine if you're some guy sitting on that same plane as Boggs. You're watching this display, maybe a little offended. He's on his sixth beer! That shouldn't be allowed, not under these circumstances. My God! The outrage! Where's my special beer treatment? As time goes by, however, your anger kind of subsides. Don't you have to, by the -- oh, I don't know -- 20th beer, sit back and appreciate the human disaster taking place in front of you? And by the time Boggs pops open that 40th can of brew, aren't you just outright egging the guy on? Your mind races with the possibilities: When will he vomit? Will his teeth fall out? Will something burst? Will he attack someone? Will it be me? How would I handle him? If something happens can it please happen in the next 40 minutes before we land in LAX? If he survives this flight, will he be carted off the plane like an injured player? Is he on a connecting flight? If so, do I dare buy a ticket? These are the same kind of thoughts I had while watching 2012. I wanted to go down with this ship. It's glorious.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly. Email him!