The marketing admittedly piqued my interest, I think because it seemed so simultaneously silly and audacious. Highway billboards and movie theater stand-ups depicted iconic human art and architecture being pathetically splintered, smashed, or washed away. I imagined the lunacy of the digital disaster film coupled with an absurdist futility. I wanted "2012" to be genre satire, an unrelenting gleeful cataclysm without redemption. In retrospect, it was not wise to expect these things from Emmerich.
If anything, "2012" is torturously formulaic, layering state of the art special effects over the writer/director's decade-old story template. A renegade scientist discovers an inevitable global catastrophe, meets our always-noble president, and clashes with an evil cabinet member--it turns out 2012 is a whole lot like 1996. But perhaps most disappointingly, by any action movie standard, Emmerich breaks a cardinal rule: he never tops his first act. The five-plus minute sequence that arrives roughly forty minutes into the film involves John Cusack and company speeding through a crumbling Los Angeles cityscape by limousine and airplane while earthquakes topple skyscrapers and split the streets, swallowing countless fleeing innocents. It would have made a fantastically over-the-top finale, but Emmerich isn't content to simply shake things up when he could drown or pelt them with fiery balls of magma.
The majority of the disposable plot actually revolves around the struggle to reserve space on one of several 'arks' being built in China to house the lucky few chosen to repopulate the dying planet. The general public is never informed of their existence, but attention rich and famous: tickets can be purchased for just a few million Euro! The third act of "2012" then takes to the open water and devolves into everything I didn't want it to be, namely a countdown-clock movie in which the resilience of human ingenuity and spirit ultimately triumph over avers--
I'm sorry, I dozed off there for a second. Millions of people die in this film, so forgive me if John Cusack and his fickle ex-wife, son, and hat-loving daughter's survival aboard a ship loaded with billionaires and bureaucrats charting a course for the inexplicably unflooded African continent to, I'm sure, politely explain the concept of manifest destiny to any weary native survivors, fails to move me. Emmerich's ending is worse than cliche, it's insultingly euphemistic, backwards, and schmaltzy.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more apt that porn metaphor becomes. It's not difficult to tell which scenes exist solely to progress the plot, and which scenes set the stage for ludicrous action set pieces. Seeing a hanger full of Russian concept cars is like opening a scene in a porno with two girls on a couch. Come on. The film's primary function, as with feature length pornography, also makes the running time completely unnecessary. You know why you're watching.
As pure spectacle, "2012" occasionally succeeds, with some well-choreographed action sequences that straddle the fine line of utter ridiculousness and competently address their directive to entertain. The plot, however, is at best derivative and at worst short-sighted and masturbatory.
Can't wait for the sequel, Roland Emmerich's "Seamen."