(not too concerned with spoilers in this review, I must warn)
In a certain moment of “2012”, in the Himalayas, a surprisingly advanced onboard computer claims they are in a collision course with something that is 8.840 km high. To which a character actually asks “What could be 8.840km high?”. Because there are so many 9 km high things to choose from, and in the Himalayas. Then another character says what it is ominously (I will not “reveal” it because I don’t want to insult your intelligence). This is how Roland Emmerich builds suspense. And this is why I am absolutely convinced “2012” is a comedy that, if directed by Emmerich with the help of Jerry Zucker, would have achieved its full comedic potential. It’s a shame that in the moment the president played by Danny Glover adresses the nation, he does not start screaming, “We are all gonna DIIIIIEEEEEE!”, even though what he says is hilarious in a less hysterical way. Paraphrasing slightly because I can’t remember the exact words: “I believe what I will say next is true for every religion: the Lord is my shepherd…“
“2012” is the result of an entire career’s worth of warming up with films like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow”. This is the film Roland Emmerich always wanted to make, and I hope his apparent grudge against planet Earth has now ended, otherwise Emmerich’s next film will be about the destruction of the Milky Way (and consequently Earth, again) because of a collision with Andromeda, happening “much earlier than we thought it would!”, a specialist possibly played by Dennis Quaid would say.
The plot of “2012” is, well… it’s 2012. According to the film (and worryingly, millions of real people who actually believe this), the Mayan calendar doesn’t stop because the Mayans just kinda got bored with it or something, but because the world will end then. The film depicts that the planets will align causing the sun to emit too many neutrinos (or vice-versa, don’t ask me to understand physics the way Emmerich does), but the point is that the center of the Earth rises in temperature dramatically, causing the tectonic plates to shift position, which causes earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, pretty much everything short of zombies and dinosaurs, which finally causes a broken family to come together again, and a boy who calls his father by his name to start calling him “dad” once again because that kind of emotional arc is so original.
“2012” doesn’t take itself seriously. It plays like a drama but has several moments that reveal its true farcical nature, like the change of magnetic poles that results in the new South Pole being located “somewhere in Wisconsin”. Not to mention how blatantly the film uses convenient character traits to make its unbelievably stupid disaster scenes seem even mildly believable, like the protagonist being a “writer and a limousine driver” and the boyfriend of his ex-wife being a “plastic surgeon and a plane pilot”. Sure, the latter constantly says he only took a few plane lessons, but mate, if you can take a plane off the ground as that very ground breaks open beneath you, then dodge falling buildings, debris and fireballs — you’re a fucking pilot. Shut the fuck up.
Another sign of the film’s sense of humor are the characters that clearly represent real people, like the rich blonde girl with a dog that reminded me of Paris Hilton. And it’s especially hilarious how the film kills all of its supporting cast in increasingly over-the-top ways, and how blatantly the film provides catharsis with the gratuitous death of particularly unlikeable characters.
Therefore, complaining about cliches, inconsistences and coincidences in a movie like this is pretty much missing the point: it’s just plain fun. Unlike Sam Raimi in “Drag Me To Hell”, which couldn’t decide between comedy and horror, Roland Emmerich opts for comedy disguised as drama and shares the fun with us, not only indulging himself but the audience with his amazing ability to find the best possible way of filming something’s destruction. And Emmerich adds to the hilarity by always destroying a famous thing with another famous thing. I gasped from laughter when a character sees a large object riding a tsunami towards them and says, “Sir, that’s the Air Force One.”
Even better, Emmerich spares no-one. After extracting humor from painfully obvious symbolism (the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling being cracked apart right where the hands of Man and God almost touch), he proceeds to destroy the Vatican right when the Pope is giving a speech. Leaders of other religions and countries suffer the same fate.
And this is good, because a movie trying to take the Mayan calendar bullshit seriously would just be sad to see. Emmerich satirizes it constantly with Woody Harrelson’s character, a crazy radio broadcaster who turns out to be right despite being clearly insane, in an irony so improbable I just had to laugh. Speaking of the talented Harrelson, he’s fortunately not the only one to know he’s in a comedy, since the also talented John Cusack doesn’t hesitate to be histrionic and shouty during action scenes. The rest of the cast seems to take the movie more seriously though, but this ends up being even funnier.
So, is “2012” good? Well, if I’m right and Emmerich’s intention was to make a comedy about the world’s destruction in 2012 and disguise it as a drama, then yes, it’s excellent and delivers. And if his intention was to deliver a serious, emotional drama, then “2012” is a wonderful mistake. Either way, it’s an entirely forgettable, but very fun time. And really, I can’t actually believe this film is serious: on one of the final scenes, with inspiring “everything worked out okay” music, people leave their arks (yes, there are arks) to be met by the wonderful sight of… a destroyed world covered in water. But look at that beautiful sunset!
But now that he’s had his fun, Roland Emmerich should start a new part of his career where he dedicates himself to more serious films, because maybe if he actually tries, he can make a movie that’s not only fun but also memorable.
Which, okay, sounds less likely than the world ending in 2012, but still.