Before the start of 2012, I predicted that at some point early in the movie, there would be some guy holding up a sign that reads "The End Is Near." I must be psychic. You'll be comforted to know I'm not getting any tingles telling me that the end is, in fact, near. But boy, oh boy, does the world go out with a bang in 2012.
The title comes from the alleged Mayan prophecy that some kind of cosmic, planetary alignment would cause the destruction of the world in 2012. The movie doesn't do much with the prophecy -- a few cursory mentions here and there. The action starts in 2009, when a couple of scientists figure out that the earth's core is rapidly heating up as a result of solar flares, which will destabilize the earth's crust, or some very scientific thing like that. Once geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) realizes that the end is near, he alerts presidential aide Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who is just the sort of cold-hearted politician to make the hard choices about who lives and who dies. The president (Danny Glover) isn't quite so hardhearted, and he and other world leaders cook up a plan (involving big boats, naturally), to save a few remnants of humanity from extinction. Well, Noah had to make some hard choices too, I suppose.
Meanwhile, out in California, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a struggling novelist, takes his kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) camping at Yellowstone, where they run into a nutjob (Woody Harrelson) who tells them that the end is near. Jackson once wrote a worst-selling novel about the end of the world, of which, it turns out, doomsaying geologist Helmsley is a big fan. I'm sensing a pattern here.
Jackson's ex-wife (Amanda Peet) has a new husband, a successful plastic surgeon named Gordon (Tom McCarthy). Poor Jackson drives a limo to make ends meet, but he's one helluva driver, which comes in handy as he and the family escape the cataclysmic inferno/abyss/earthquake that destroys California in just the first of several close scrapes. There are also narrow escapes from disaster via small airplane, RV, big airplane, and really, really big boat. It's just one damn thing after another.
Thing is, director Roland Emmerich (who co-wrote 2012 with Harald Kloser) knows how to destroy the world. He's done it often enough (*Independence Day*, *The Day After Tomorrow*, *Godzilla*), and the terrific CG effects in 2012 enable him to rain quite convincing destruction upon the planet in the form of earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear force volcanic eruptions, crumbling skyscrapers, fireballs, clouds of ash, and city-swallowing fissures. Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice... Emmerich says why not both? And why stop there?
And surprisingly, it's a pretty good time, the end of the world. Quite watchable and more entertaining than you might think. It goes on for far too long -- the movie clocks in at over two and a half hours. Granted, it takes time to destroy the world, but 2012 has too many characters and too many subplots, which makes it pretty hard to get very invested in any of them. A cute dog, a Russian oligarch, his obnoxious kids and his floozy girlfriend, a Buddhist monk and his family, the president's daughter (Thandie Newton), a couple of old jazz musicians on a cruise ship (George Segal and Blu Mankuma), geologists in India... They all come together in the end -- well, the survivors do -- but it's a butt-numbing experience.
The only person in the whole movie who seems to be having any fun is Harrelson, who bites into his role as a long-haired, wild-eyed conspiracy theorist who's just pleased as punch to be right for a change, (although, you know, the death of billions is kind of a drag). Kind of a drag, but not so much that you can't enjoy all the mayhem. There's nothing subtle or deep or emotionally engaging about 2012 -- you know what's coming, and you can pretty much tell who's going to survive this thing (at least you can if you're psychic like me). Emmerich knows to keep the disaster front and center, and most of the death at an emotionally safe distance and free of blood and gore -- there are lots of falling bodies about which we can feel bad in principle, but then Boom! Crash! Another narrow escape! Phew! Aw man, there goes the Sistine Chapel!