2012 isn’t really a movie: It’s more director/FX-mad, wannabe-supervillain Roland Emmerich calling out every other disaster film that has ever come before...including his own. Aliens blowing up the Empire State Building? What piker came up with that? Big-ass cruise ship hitting an iceberg and sinking in the North Atlantic? Bah! Try topping this: The whole damn planet has struck the metaphoric iceberg and is going down by the head.
It’s all got something to do with neutrinos. Those little subatomic bastards usually leave us alone, but now they’ve mutated and they’re microwaving Earth’s core. Up next: global crustal displacement, and it will ruin your whole afternoon.
Emmerich wasn’t content to merely make the biggest disaster movie ever; he had to make every disaster movie ever. 2012 is like a late-night infomercial: “Sure, everyone loves a good plane crash! Everyone loves yer basic earthquake flick! But order now, and you’ll also get Destruction by Supervolcano, Tsunami Catastrophe, and California Sliding into the Pacific Just Like They Told Us Would Happen Someday!” It’s exhausting, this multi-orgasmic destructo porn, but it is high-larious. I didn’t think the end of the world would be this funny. Billions are dead, civilization is over, but — and here’s where the funny comes in — preposterous coincidence will go on. Ridiculous dialogue will go on. Schmaltz will go on. Hyperbole will go on. And John Cusack will go on. Won’t he?
Cuz look: Earth’s crust may be disintegrating, but Cusack’s family is disintegrating, too, OK? His Amanda Peet ex-wife is still ragging on him as Hawaii boils away beneath them! His moppet kids prefer Mom’s new boyfriend even as Las Vegas is getting snuffed out by a cloud of volcanic dust the size of Yellowstone Park. But it’ll all be worth it in the end if his 7-year-old daughter feels confident enough after the end of the world to stop wetting the bed.
Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser (they also co-wrote Emmerich’s breathtakingly dumb 10,000 B.C.) have invented a story that is sort of beautiful in its absurdity. It’s like Ed Wood with a budget. (In fact, SF writer Greg Bear should sue Emmerich and Sony. For this is basically his brilliant and chilling 1987 novel The Forge of God, with layers of cheese added and a too-funny nonsense explanation for the end of the world replacing his coolly terrifying, actually-science-fictional one.) They can take a wonderful actor such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and force him, as a White House science advisor and the film’s nominal conscience, to say things like, “The director of the Louvre is not an enemy of humanity!” and “Our culture is our soul and that’s not dying tonight” with a straight face. (Which, to his credit, he does manage.) They can take a break for a moment of Confucian wisdom, cuz that’s what the world needs: fortune cookies. Adorable little girls with bunny slippers are dying — dying! I tell you — and the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is crashing into the White House, but at long as John Cusack gets some resolution on his relationship with his ex, it’s all good.
If Emmerich was, perhaps, trying to convince us that humanity is not worth saving, he’s making a pretty good job of it.