Sunday, November 15, 2009

REVIEW: 2012

Hey, if I had Amanda Peet reaching out to me, I could outrun a wave of destruction myself! 

To review 2012, I must also review most of the cinematic oeuvre of Roland Emmerich.

Why? Because in a number of ways, 2012 is the ultimate Roland Emmerich film, for good and ill. This movie sums up everything that makes his work sometimes entertaining, and everything that makes his movies sometimes abysmal.

I have not seen his American breakthrough, Universal Soldier, so I have to start a little later.

Stargate: More like Boregate. Except for the Stargate sequences, the film moves with all the speed and urgency of a funeral. Even in some of his better movies, Emmerich paces badly, and that's true of 2012. There is absolutely NO need for the new movie to clock in at around two and a half hours. Emmerich could have shaved a half hour from the film and improved it dramatically.

Independence Day: Along with Top Gun, I find this film to be the quintessential example of entertaining junk. Neither film means a damn thing, but both have enough flash and bang and enjoyably silly dramatics to make them fun to watch. 2012 is also entertaining junk, albeit overlong entertaining junk. And it's the movie that proved that Emmerich could stage a good, solid action scene without editing it into a blinding frenzy, unlike his Big Dumb Movie compatriot, Michael Bay.

Godzilla: Certainly not a good movie per se, but it's also not the unmitigated disaster many people make it out to be. Once Godzilla really started stomping around in the second half, I enjoyed it, even if it took too long to get there. Similarly, 2012 takes way too long to get going before the money shots start delivering.

The Patriot: On balance, this is probably Emmerich's best film because it's the one time his characters came across as three-dimensional. Granted, having actors as good as Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger helps, but the film delivers on both the human level and the action movie level. What ultimately redeems 2012 is that it has just enough humanity to make it worth caring about.

The Day After Tomorrow: A lot of critics gave this mega-disaster pic a pass, but I never understood why. Sure, some of the destructo-scenes were impressive, but the characters had all the depth of a credit card. When an actress as appealing as Emmy Rossum can't save your movie, you screwed up. This is why 2012 is superior - it contains at least one character - John Cusack - that I happily rooted for.

10,000 BC:  Not even the alleged spectacle delivered in this nearly unwatchable slog of a movie that seemed to last 10,000 years. It's chock full of the kind of one-dimensional characters that drag 2012 down. I could have done without 2012's boorish Ruissan official, and I REALLY could have done without his Paris Hilton-esque girlfriend, complete with an annoying little yap dog.

Although 2012 has all of the features that make Emmerich's movies stupid, it has just enough of the assets that make them enjoyably guilty pleasures. Despite its stupid supporting characters and uneven pacing, the movie work, first  because the big action scenes deliver. I would say that Emmerich throws in everything but the kitchen sink, but he throws the sink in too, along with the stove, the microwave, the dishwasher, and the garbage disposal. His gleefulness at making everything crash and/or explode is palpable, I even forgave the movie when it became ludicrous. The first time Cusack's character JUST outran the wave of destruction behind him, I rolled my eyes. The second time, I said, "Aw, come on." By the sixth time he did it, I smiled and said, "Yeah, OK, I get it. It's a joke. Sure wish I had his luck."

What helped, though, was I really wanted to see Cusack make it out alive. At first I was puzzled as to why he was even in this movie. He fares best in lower-key dramas and romances. The last time Cusack appeared in a Big, Dumb, Movie, Con Air, he added nothing to it. In 2012, however, he takes the thinnest sketch of a character and makes it breathe. Even though I thought Emmerich piled on a couple of climaxes too many, the ending works becauseCusack himself hangs in the balance.

No prizes for guessing whether he makes it out alive, but I made it out of 2012 not only alive but reasonably entertained. At least it has the good taste not to use Louis Armstrong's "What  a Wonderful World" on the soundtrack. That would have been TOO on the nose.



Allison Dickson said...

Your review sounds sincere (as all of them do), but I still cannot create in myself the desire to see this. Maybe it's because I've been witness to far too much 2012 Mayan Calendar nuttery, and this movie (at least by the look of its previews) looks like nothing more than a way to enable that particular psychosis.

Sir Critic said...

I can see that point, but the way I look at it, the 2012 nutters are not going to be made any worse by this movie. They don't need its help! And the people who don't believe in 2012 anyway aren't going to be convinced by it.

ME said...

I really have a hard time watching these type of movies. I hate the whole end of the world idea and don't believe 2012 will be it. So let the nuts feed on this stuff. Now mind you I'm a big fan of John Cusack but I probably won't see it anytime soon.

Scott Copeland said...

I have seen Universal Soldier, and it really doesn't fit into the Emmerich film list. It is paced well enough (unlike Stargate), but when your leads and Van Damme and Lundgren, your chances of doing much with the film weren't very good in the first place.