Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), the writer of a single Science Fiction novel selling about 500 copies, now works as a limo driver as he waits for the next book to materialize. He arrives at his ex-wife Kate's (Amanda Peet) house to pick up their two kids, Noah and Lily (Liam James and Morgan Lilly). Before they leave, Kate makes sure that Jackson knows their daughter must still wear these pull up training pants to bed. "She still wets the bed at seven?" he asks her. They drive off for a weekend of camping in Yellowstone and stumble across an area fenced off by the army. Jackson doesn't pay any attention to the signs and has his kids climb over the fence…
As I sat in the audience, I woke up because I heard a loud noise that I didn't sense was coming from the film. When I opened my eyes, I realized the sound was my snoring. I was able to fall asleep during one of the loudest, most bombastic films I have ever seen because the narrative is so preposterous and the characters are so clichéd.
Long story short, a scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) learns the Earth's core is heating up because of rays from the sun. His data indicates that the Earth as we know it will come to an end in 2012. He takes this information to the White House Chief of Staff (Oliver Platt). Quickly for politicians, the President (Danny Glover) and other members of the G-8 set a plan into motion to save as much of Earth as they can. They begin a top-secret building project in the Himalayas. Strange, secretive men go around selling transport to the world's rich for $1 billion Euros per person. The President's daughter (Thandie Newton) travels the globe to save the "best" artworks. John Cusack runs into a rogue radio broadcaster (Woody Harrelson), a crazy guy broadcasting from his Winnebago in Yellowstone who claims he knows what is going on. Then, earthquakes begin to hit Los Angeles. Cusack puts two and two together and races to Kate's house to get them to safety. If he had stopped at a Starbucks, he wouldn't make it because the streets begin to buckle, freeways collapse and the skyscrapers of Los Angeles begin to topple. But Cusack and family make it out of Los Angeles to the next stop, Las Vegas. There, Emmerich and his team get to demolish a lot of the signature Las Vegas hotels. Then, they get to blow up and destroy various Washington landmarks. Then, the world.
One thing I found odd was that the destruction of the world isn't tied into global waste and global warming, much like "The Day After Tomorrow". The cause of the Earth's core overheating is solar flares. In other words, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. So there is no message to the film. I guess Hollywood has realized that global warming in a fiction film doesn't lead to seat warming by ticket-buying patrons. "The Happening" ('the wind is out to get us") was a big dud. It seems like I vaguely recall another film with global warming as the protagonist, but I can't quite place my finger on the title because it wasn't bad enough or good enough to remember. So Emmerich uses a device that no one can fix. The only solution is to try to save as many people as possible and as many resources as possible. When they can, they will start to rebuild.
As Cusack drives his limo through the buckling streets of Los Angeles, the awkward vehicle does a remarkably good job of evading the destruction occurring all around them. When they make it to the Santa Monica airport, Kate's new husband has to fly the prop plane quickly, putting to use his rudimentary skills as they attempt to evade the eroding runway. As they fly away, Emmerich treats us to a view of Los Angeles sliding into the sea. For some reason, they head to Vegas next. I really think this is a ploy to allow the filmmakers to blow up more recognizable landmarks. When you learn the full story, Vegas doesn't make sense.
In fact, Curtis picks his kids up in Los Angeles, in his limo, and is driving the same limo when they are camping in Yellowstone, a couple of states away. When the chaos begins, Kate demands they return and they seem to get back early the next morning. Can you really drive from Yellowstone to Los Angeles in such a short time? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.
The special effects are good, make no mistake about that. I was particularly impressed when a fault line destroys a Los Angeles supermarket. The smaller scale makes it seem more interesting and believable. But we wouldn't expect anything else from Emmerich would we? He clearly relishes recreating landmarks with as much attention to detail as possible only so he can destroy them. This happens in all of his films (except for "10,000 B.C." which doesn’t have any) and he clearly acts like a kid in a candy shop.
But Emmerich is only an okay storyteller. He seems very reliant on the notion of good and bad. John Cusack is a good father, who really cares for his kids and still loves his ex-wife. To get this point across, and hit us over the head with it, Cusack works for a shady Russian Billionaire with two bratty twins and a freshly implanted bimbo girlfriend complete with a yappy little expensive dog. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a scientist who first learns of the problem. He wants and needs to do everything he possibly can to save mankind. To get this point across, his main liaison with the White House is the Chief of Staff (Platt) who doesn't bother to save his aging mother from the destruction. And there are more examples like this. Thankfully, Emmerich doesn't play favorites when killing people off. Both good and bad people die.
These extreme examples of good and bad wouldn't be so egregious if there were any thing else. There are no characters with a little of both. Ejiofor is friends with an Indian scientist (who first uncovers the problem in an old Indian mine). He promises to get help for his friend, to help evacuate him and bring him to safety. The Indian scientist (played by Jimi Mistry, a recognizable actor who was in "RockNRolla" among many other films) and Ejiofor are good guys, so much so they could be considered saintly, so when and if they die, they must die in biblical ways. Two more nods at how unsubtle the filmmaker is, laying on the emotions with a trowel. Cusack's Curtis is a good guy as well, but he is only out to make sure his family is safe. This makes him the most complicated character. And he isn't saying much.
Someone at Sony clearly likes Emmerich's work because he also seems to have been given too much money to make this film. This leads to multiple conclusions and multiple "suspenseful" situations. Really, as soon as you think the remaining people are safe, someone does something to jeopardize them. Then, everyone has to run around, look tense, and shout, "Nothing can be done" as one-person risks life and limb to fix the problem. These scenes are so overdone; complete with ticking clock and computer generated images showing how close everyone comes to oblivion. Emmerich seems to believe the planet creating havoc isn't enough.
Just to make sure we know a new day has dawned, as the survivors look out at a sunrise, Lily Curtis, Jackson's seven year old daughter proclaims she doesn't need to use the training pants any more. Hooray! The world is in pieces, but the little girl isn't wetting the bed anymore. All is right with the world. Good thing she isn't wetting the bed anymore. Where would she get the training pants?
"2012" is way too loud, way too long, way too broad and not relevant enough to make any of this worth it.