In giving three and a half stars to "2012," my good friend Roger Ebert has this to say about the film:
"This is fun. '2012' delivers what it promises, and since no sentient being will buy a ticket expecting anything else, it will be, for its audiences, one of the most satisfactory films of the year...You think you've seen end-of-the-wold movies? This one ends the world, stomps on it, grinds it up and spits it out."
Oh, how I miss mixing it up in the balcony with Roger. Had he uttered those words on "Ebert & Roeper," I would have turned to him and said, in the most respectful of tones: "We have confirmation. You have lost your mind."
I know I watched the same movie Roger saw, because we were at the same screening. But while he is more than willing to embrace "2012" as a big-bang thrill ride, I am trying to figure out what ranking I will ascribe to it when I compile my list of the worst movies.
Of the decade.
There's no denying Roland Emmerich's ability to destroy things onscreen. From "Independence Day" to "Godzilla" to "The Day After Tomorrow," Emmerich keeps working out his whole hatred-of-the-world thing on the biggest canvases imaginable. But as the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, the Sistine Chapel, etc., were shattered and toppled and destroyed in "2012" as tiny little computer-generated humans scrambled for their lives, I shifted gears from impressed (by the special effects) to impatient to restless to irritated to annoyed to WHEN IS THE F------ MOVIE GOING TO END?!?!?!?
Like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" and Tom Cruise in "War of the Worlds" and Bill Paxton in "Twister" and about two dozen other leading men in action films, John Cusack plays a guy who has lost his family but has the chance to redeem himself in the midst of a giant crisis. Cusack's Jackson Curtis takes his kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, where he stumbles (well, climbs over a fence) into a restricted area where something very fishy seems to be happening. Cue Woody Harrelson, campaigning hard for a Razzie as Charlie, a seemingly insane conspiracy theorist and pirate radio host who swears the end of the world is near, just as the Mayans predicted.
Soon the Earth is literally falling apart at the seams. Danny Glover is the obligatory noble but helpless president of the United States; Thandie Newton is the obligatory adoring daughter of the widowed president; Oliver Platt is the obligatory scheming chief of staff; Chiwetel Eijofor is the obligatory science adviser with a conscience; George Segal is the obligatory old-timer on a cruise ship who wants to reconcile with his son before it's too late. Every character in this movie is inspired by some other character from some other disaster movie. There are many good actors here, spouting ridiculous lines while trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.
Dignity loses, in a landslide.
There's a certain cruelty in the way Emmerich kills off some of the supporting characters. Just when we think they've survived a flood or an explosion or an earthquake or a fireball, whoops! Splat. Bang. It's like a "Road Runner" cartoon, except nobody ever gets up. Even in a live action cartoon like this, some of the "kills" are just mean.
As entire cities fall and tidal waves swirl and the skies swirl with doom, we learn that thousands of Chinese laborers have been constructing giant arks in the Himalayas, and that a few hundred thousand people (along with two elephants, two giraffes, etc.) will be allowed to board these arks in order to continue the species. Only the talented and the very wealthy will make the cut. Apparently none of the workers who built these monstrous vessels ever paused to say, "Hey, once I'm done here, what's in it for me?" There's a lot of late-in-the-movie moralizing and speechifying about the whole process, but it's hard to swallow any messages from a filmmaker who has just spent two hours gleefully killing millions of screaming human beings in the name of entertainment.
I suppose if you view "2012" as a near-parody, as a so-bad-it's-good experience, you might be entertained by this overlong, overblown, all-out assault on your senses. I found it to be the Mother of All Disaster Movie Cliches, and not in a good way. This is the most idiotic movie of the year.