(Judge Dredd Megazine, Rebellion)
In Roland Emmerich’s new disaster epic, 2012 is the year when our time’s up. The world’s leaders know it, and even HRH Queen Elizabeth II is packing her handbags and corgis, but for the rest of us it’s floods, fires and curtains. If nothing else, you have to admire Emmerich’s cockiness in using such an imminent sell-by date as a title. Perhaps, though, he reasons that his vision of the future is so powerful and pungent that it’ll survive long after the title date is overtaken by the calendar.
Or it could be a sign that from now on Emmerich won’t bother naming his interchangeable films and will just give them numbers instead. Some day soon, he’ll mash up all his alien invaders, earthquakes, tsunamis and infernos and play them end to end as their own eye-scalding movie, dispensing with the vestigial scripts and characters that no-one cares about. He could call it Godzilla 2012: Independence Day After Tomorrow. Throw in the Book of Revelations and we’re sorted.
In 2012, the Earth is doomed not because of giant alien spaceships or gaga climate change, but because the continents under our feet are going runny, floody and kablooey. Caught in the midst of this is a broken American family, led by the sweetly rumpled John Cusack (High Fidelity, 1408), who’s racing to find out how the world’s elite plan to sit out Doomsday. Even if you’ve not seen the trailer, the answer’s pretty much what you’d think. The first cataclysm hits Los Angeles, and it’s something to see. Skyscrapers and freeways rain down, there are explosions on explosions on explosions, and Cusack’s brood in his car zooming down the middle of it all. I saw it on a big cinema screen, and joined the spontaneous audience applause when the scene ended. Forget 3D. 2012 demands the juddering seats you get in theme parks, and it’s just a crying shame that it’s not in IMAX.
Unfortunately, the earthquake lasts maybe two or three minutes, and the film is a windy two-and-a-half hours. The characters, of course, are cardboard, livened up by a “Whoopee, I’m crazy!” Woody Harrelson conspiracy theorist who thinks getting fried is the ultimate trip. The other kablooeys fill the eyes and ears, but they’re all overshadowed by that first quake. Once you’ve been over the first dip of the rollercoaster, nothing else quite compares. True, there’s a super-volcano that blows up Yellowstone Park most impressively, but I found myself griping that it didn’t look so much bigger than, say, Dante’s Peak a decade ago. By the end, the action feels almost TV-sized, with a lot of silly moral grandstanding and actors scrabbling around in underwater tanks.
If you put Emmerich’s previous work out of your mind, you can kid yourself that this film might be smarter, more cynical, subversive. The Princess Diana reference took me back (was Mohammed Al-Fayed on the script-doctoring?). I also enjoyed the Governator Schwarzenegger cameo (better than his one in Terminator Salvation) and the bit where the Sistine Chapel ceiling splits in exactly the right place, then flattens hundreds of terrified worshippers. Ultimately, Buddhists score higher than Roman Catholics, with a monk ringing his monastery bell in farewell as the Himalayas go glug.
But the stupidity goes up and up, and the fatal lobotomy takes place when Emmerich repeats the bit from Independence Day, the scene where millions of men, women and children are being burned, drowned or pulverised but it’s okay because the dog is fine. 2012 is still worth watching if you’re in the mood for spectacle and have 150 spare minutes. However, the next time Emmerich does a disaster flick, I want to see a meteor hitting Crufts, and the whole of America vaporised in the first five minutes.
(c) 2018 Rebellion A/S. Reprinted with permission.