By Mark Pfeiffer
Of course, the powers that be don't bother informing the public about the forthcoming catastrophe. Rather, they plan for how to save their own skins and ensure the future of humanity. Failed author turned limousine driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) happens to be in the right place at the right time when hell on earth arrives. Armed with knowledge of a long shot survival option, Jackson scrambles to save his former wife Kate (Amanda Peet), kids, and their stepdad.
When the World Hangs in the Balance, a Reliable Calendar Is Needed
By Manohla Dargis
In truth, the central family here is as disposable as the billions of computer-generated humans that soon pile up after disaster hits. Written by Mr. Emmerich and Harald Kloser (they last collaborated on “10,000 B.C.”), “2012” takes its plot points and shifting plates from both science and fiction, and its title from doomsday prophesies, including a myth about the end of days derived from a reading of the Mayan calendar. Though not much is made of the Mayan angle, the most amusing character, a doomsday prophet and radio broadcaster played by Woody Harrelson, seems in hair, beard and interests to have been drawn along the predictive lines of the real author Daniel Pinchbeck (“2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl”).
By Peter Hall
Granted, one would expect the end of the world to take more than 90 minutes, but the biggest failing of 2012 is that it barely has enough story to span half an hour, yet alone two more beyond that. Sign up for all the California-sinking, supervolcano-erupting mayhem you want, but what you're signing up for comes packaged with banal, one-dimensional characters who are only ever allowed to spew groan-inducing dialogue like so many fireballs from a, well, supervolcano. And considering the spectacle is unfortunately a fraction of the length, the audience is given more than enough time to wonder how so much mediocrity came to be from such talented people.
Which is a shame, because 2012 opens well enough.
Despite Cusack's character being the must underwhelming one in the entire production, the first 50 odd minutes of the film are perfectly satisfying. The audience gets to meet and greet with a wide array of ancillary characters in orbit of Ejiofor and Cusack's storylines while also being treated to two outstanding, extended escape-the-apocalypse sequences that are thrilling enough to have you convinced 2012 may not be so bad after all. But then the tension winds down and we get to meet and greet even more ancillary characters, which serves not to provide the extended emotional attachment Emmerich is clearly shooting for. Rather the time spent with them does nothing to propel the core storyline while simultaneously diluting what minimal attachment the audience had with Cusack and his immediate family.
About midway through, 2012 has not only lost its characters but its spectacle trump card to boot. Nothing from that point on comes close enough to even touch toes with the film's first two effects extravaganzas, condemning the remaining hour plus of the film to meandering storylines with wholly predictable resolutions; which is a situation the co-writer/director does not have the skill set to make even remotely interesting.
Oh, it's a disaster alright.
By Patrick Kolan
And that's not even the half of it. Seriously. It goes on and on like this, piling on so much rehash that you will laugh.
2012 is somewhat better than 10,000 B.C. But the characters are barely two-dimensional, the CGI alternates between good and phony-looking, the big finish (escaping the destruction in arks) makes little sense. Emmerich is a great filmmaker except for his plotting and characterization.
The Native aspect
2012's Native references includes: One "Mayan 2012" sign held by a protester, a mass suicide at Tikal shown on the news, a couple mentions of the Maya, one mention of the Hopi, and a brief explanation of the Maya prophecy.
The explanation is bogus; it isn't what the Maya believe. But it's what New Agers believe the Maya believe, so I can't fault the movie for that. The thing that annoyed me was the mass suicide. I couldn't tell what race the bodies were, but the implication was negative. Either the Maya themselves committed suicide or they presided over a New Age death cult. Because the Maya are all about human sacrifice, you know.
It's a shame 2012 didn't take the Maya angle one step further. How about including a Maya Indian to tell the scientists what was going on? He could've even been a Maya scientist.
Whatever he was, he could've said the 2012 end-date was hokum, but many indigenous cultures believe we're destroying the world. That would've added a welcome bit of depth to this popcorn movie.
Rob's rating: 6.5 of 10.
For more on the subject, see Report on Comic-Con 2009 and 2012 Trailer.
Below: John Cusack races from