For almost a decade and a half, director Roland Emmerich has been intent on destroying parts of the world and causing general chaos amongst its inhabitants. To facilitate this he has made full use of the special effects available, whether it be the giant lizard in Godzilla (1998), the flooding of New York in The Day After Tomorrow, or the destruction of the White House in Independence Day, his best film to date. However, not content with what's done so far, Mr. Emmerich has targeted the entire world and made 2012, using a Mayan doomsday prophecy as the basis – or perhaps excuse – to reek havoc on Earth once more.
And as hard as it may be to imagine, especially if you've seen Emmerich's previous work, the man has outdone himself in terms of scale of destruction and the visual effects which make it all believable (if that word can be used to describe an Emmerich movie). The film is all about, for its whopping 158-minute runtime, causing as much destruction as possible on a worldwide scale. And for that it achieves its primary goal. However, there's never anything different to the film than that, not really, and because of that it gets boring by the time we get to the fifth or sixth visual effects-laden destruction scene, and watching our hero, played by John Cusack, and his family narrowly escaping death gets more than a little bit repetitive and tiring.
The story is simple: a Mayan prophecy predicts that the end – or rather, destruction – of the world will happen in the year 2012. The government prepare for the worst, keeping that a secret from the public until "the time is right." Finally we land at the dreaded titular year, and things start to go very bad for humanity. Sea levels rise, floods are abound, earthquakes appear left, right and centre, building collapse, volcanoes erupt and you can add every other type of disaster you can think of to that list. We specifically follow Cusack's Jackson Curtis (something to be noted: switch those two names around and you have the real name of rapper 50 Cent – on purpose or just a coincidence?) and his family as they try to flee and evade disaster at every interval.
I won't explain anymore about where the plot heads (the ads probably do that for me), but needless to say there's a chance at survival for at least some of the population. The plot of an Emmerich film is never important, nor are the characters, and that's once again an issue once the appeal of the visuals and general destruction wears off. That sort of thing can only go so far before it gets tedious, and most of Emmerich's films have gotten away with it (just barely) because their runtimes are rarely that lengthy. However, at almost two hours and 40 minutes, 2012 far outstays its welcome, and the fact that it doesn't let up with its worldwide destruction means it gets boring way before the end credits roll.
On the surface it may seem like some attention is paid to the characters and the importance of their lives, after all the whole movie is about humans trying to survive what seemingly can't be survived (a certain pointlessness and hopelessness is at play). But if you look past the surface you can see it's all just "insert here" for any emotional moments regarding specific human characters Emmerich thinks we care about but we really don't. There is talented actors to be found, from Cusack to Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson (who's easily the best character in the film), but they're all completely wasted for the most part, with nothing to do but react to what's going on around them (something which is entirely unconvincing at the best of times).
The visuals really are spectacular here, even if the destruction they make at least quasi-believable gets tiring after a while. Shots of tsunami's sweeping cities, earthquakes causing buildings to collapse, and volcanoes spitting giant fireballs are often jaw-dropping. However, isn't that to be expected with a price tag of around $200 million? You get what you pay for, as they say.
For some reason a Roland Emmerich film has failed to have both epic destruction and crazy visual effects along with great character development and a strong story since 1996's Independence Day. Since then his movies have only really facilitated a sort of morbid curiosity in movie goers in seeing parts of their world destroyed, whether it by giant monsters (Godzilla) or by natural disasters (The Day After Tomorrow). 2012 is just another one of those, a movie which at first is entertaining in a "switch off your brain" sort of way, but which gets tiresome and repetitive before the half-way point, leaving you looking at your watch and wanting the credits to roll.
Some laughable dialogue and ridiculous plot points, under-developed characters played by wasted actors and a far too long runtime leads to the conclusion this isn't worth the time and money it takes to watch it. If you're a big fan of disaster movies you'll want to see it, and will be able to forgive it's huge flaws in lieu of the visuals more than others. But for everyone else you might as well rent one of Emmerich's other movies – in the end you'll get the same effect.