Regular visitors to BestForFilm (Hi Mum! Can we have Golden Drummers for tea?) will know that we’re a little bit sceptical when it comes to films that rely primarily on CGI effects to impress. Add to that we’re not exactly smitten with the oeuvre of serial planet-abuser Roland Emmerich (seriously, the guy’s destroyed the planet so many times he makes Galactus looks like a sulky toddler in a sand pit) and 2012 isn’t exactly the kind of film we usually look forward to.
Apocalypse now and again. And again.
The plot is so similar to every other film Emmerich produces it’s barely worth repeating, but here goes. It turns out there’s a far greater threat against humanity than aliens, Godzilla or global warming: the potent mix of a thousand-year old Mesoamerican civilization and lying about the future. Yup, the Mayans have spoken, and what they say is that we’re screwed. Cue the effects budget (and sideline sense – if the Mayans knew that much about the future they wouldn’t have got slaughtered by the Conquistadors now, would they?)
And, it seems, very little else. Get the slackest of slack-jaws ready and prepare to breathe through your mouth for 160 minutes of dreck. Such is the paucity of ideas, intelligence and execution in 2012 that if it had any less going for it it’d cease to exist. The “script” – if it can even be called that – is merely a series of by-the-numbers “family tension” scenes that serve to link together one destruction set piece after another. Combine that with a bland performance from all involved and Emmerich might as well have shelved the cast and linked all the CGI apocalypse porn with hand-written captions.
Mr. Cusack? There’s a performance on the phone for you.
John Cusack, who can make a lousy film watchable by virtue of his presence (Identity and Serendipity spring, unbidden, to mind) is pretty much lost here. He tries his best with bad material but just can’t pull off the heroic hero with the aplomb of his slightly manlier contemporaries, and it shows. That’s not to say Cusack isn’t a good actor (in fact, he’s a great actor) but however good, he can’t maneuver around something as simple as being massively miscast. Danny Glover plays the US President with all the personality of an unsalted breadstick, and even Woody Harrelson’s turn as a wacky conspiracy theorist is too one-note to be of any interest.
And yes, while the CGI visuals are impressive they’re nothing that hasn’t been seen before innumerable times. The core of the film – its characters and, more egregiously, its half-baked, scientifically ludicrous premise – totally lacks any spark of originality and charm. It’s a truly stupid film. Thing is, that would be OK (everybody loves a stupid movie, after all) if a little more care and thought had been put into anything beyond the special effects.
There are far better films than 2012 out there – that goes without saying. What is worth saying, however, is that there’s far better big-budget disaster films out there, and even (and we don’t say this very often) better Roland Emmerich films out there. And that kind of pronouncement from us really does mean the world is ending.