To begin with: I like Roland Emmerich. Not because I see it as my patriotic duty or because he and me were, by some freak accident, born in the same country, but because I think he can be a damn fine director. Note that I say “can be”.
I loved Stargate and The Day After Tomorrow and 10.000 BC and I also have a soft spot for Eight Legged Freaks, which he only produced. But it appears that Roland Emmerich is a man at one with the universe, always intent on balancing things out, and so he gave us The Patriot and Independence Day and Godzilla. Balance. The good and the bad. The man would make one hell of a Buddhist.
The trailer was, to put it in one word: awesome. It had great music, it had pretty CGI, it had a giraffe. What more can you ask for?
A movie that is good. How about that?
Was 2012 a bad movie? Well… not quite. But it wasn’t good either. To come back to the topic of balance: apparently Roland Emmerich has given up on the idea of making good and bad movies in equal amounts and just thought “what the hell, I’ll be more efficient if I just make a movie that has an homogeneous mix of good and bad scenes”.
I won’t go into detail on the plot, since I don’t feel up to unravelling that particular gordian knot so soon after recovering from the flu, but let’s look at some specific character moments and motivations, just for kicks.
John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, the man of a thousand coincidences. Not only does he either accidentally meet or already know all the major players of this movie (okay, so three of them are his wife and children), his character also constantly gets abused in most horrific ways by the scriptwriter (hey, wait, that’s Mr. Emmerich too.) To say once, and only once, that it would be a terrible coincidence for a little published writer like Jackson Curtis to make it on the ark ships and then for that guy to actually make it on the ark… well that is already pushing the powers of cliché to the breaking point, but Dr. Adrian Helmsley (played by Serenity-Evil-Übervillain Chiwetel Ejiofor) insists on repeating this line as if he had swallowed a broken record player. Speaking of cliché…
Dr. Adrian Helmsley: Mr. Curtis, there is only one way to save us all. You have to go on a suicide death dive!
Jackson Curtis: Okay. Death is better than staying with my stupid ex-wife, who’s already smooching me although I let her current husband drop into an oversized gearbox five minutes ago.
Dr. Adrian Helmsley: Your sacrifice will be remembered. I have the president’s daughter with me here, because she’s black, like me, and she didn’t have any action scenes so far. She’ll do the remembering for me, because I can only remember one li… What would be the chances of Jackson Curtis, a little known author, ending up on…
President’s Daughter: Shut up. But I do think you’re kind of cute. Also you’re the only black guy in this flick that isn’t somebody’s dad.
Jackson Pollock Curtis: Hey… guys. I already said yes. Anyway… can I take my kid?
Adrian Healy Helmsley: Sure, of course you can…
Everyone (including the drowning Russian chick that the movie is going to forget about after this scene): What?!?
Jackson Samuel: Well, I thought suicide death dives were the perfect thing to build up a better dad-son-relationship kinda thing.
Everyone (including drowned and now zombified Russian chick): Oh, okay.
Michael Jackson and his son dive through endless tunnels.
(V.O. as they dive): Who was stupid enough anyway to build these arks in a way that you can only start up the engine if all the doors are closed?
Adrian Helmsley sneaks away with an embarrassed facial expression while everyone is trying to figure that one out.
Meanwhile under water on the death dive: Holding your air for so long seems impossible, especially since the movie insists on cutting back to the bridge of the ark for extended dialogue sequences, but they make it to the jammed hydraulics chamber. Bits of Gordon, the kid’s stepdad referenced earlier in this scene, are floating in the murky water.
Jackson Five: Gurgle blubber grargh. (Kid hold the flashlight so that I can see what I’m doing.)
Kid: Blubber, shlubber bubble gurgle. (Okay dad. Will do. Am I blue in the face?)
Jackson Curtis: Gurgle. (Yes.)
Kid:… (Has drowned.)
The ark slams into Mount Everest and everybody on board dies. Since the other two arks are full of multimillionaires, politicians, telephone sanitizers and hairdressers, mankind goes extinct.
Yes, anyway. That took a little longer than I thought it would. Back to the real movie.
I could point out other character and plot inconsistencies by the bucketload. Like the Russian chick that seems to be superglued to her boyfriend. At least he tries to ditch her twice in the movie and they always kind of end up together again, or at least in close physical proximity. Or the fact that the Italian prime minister chooses to stay behind with his people and face the coming apocalypse only armed with his faith in God. That’s Berlusconi for you, Roland Emmerich nailed him perfectly. Or… well, there is actually just one more character that I’d like to talk about.
Charlie Frost aka Woody-nobody-ever-gives-me-serious-parts-Harrelson. Now, here’s your classical mad conspiracy theorist. No one is ever going to do that part better than Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, but let’s give Mr. Harrelson points for trying. Nice touches all around. And they even resisted the lure of having a motorcycle-out-racing-the-pyroclastic-explosion-sequence (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what I mean). But, and here’s the thing that really, majorly pissed me off:
They have a character like that, who’s clearly off his rocker, who’s kind of funny and tragic and also a little heroic. And they have to ruin his last scene, his death, by doing a f**king ass crack joke. Seriously. Words fail me. He’s already mad, at least let him keep his pants on when he kicks the bucket.
So *takes deep breath* enough ranting. 2012 is, despite all its flaws, a good movie.
Okay. A mediocre movie. It didn’t make me want to kill myself. Jonas agrees. For all its faults it somehow manages to be decent.
With another composer and a slightly better script it might even have been a good movie. The right ideas are all there. And it even manages to look good, except for everything surrounding the suicide death dive, which is out-of-proportion bad. Come to think of it… a new cut, eliminating that entire useless last minute complication, would probably already save the movie.
This one will never enter even the top 100 of my favourite movies, but it won’t make it into the worst 100 either. I don’t regret seeing it. At least I got a review out of it. And it has a giraffe in a spacesuit. Sweet.