If you’re going to bring the world to an end, or make any kind of disaster flick in general, it needs to be big, dumb and, most of all, fun. The emphasis should always be on the word fun. Let that be a lesson to you, Hollywood hotshots. This includes Bay, McG, and Sommers.
With a long history of destruction and CGI-driven films tucked tightly under his belt, Roland Emmerich once again brings us an exhaustive, 158-minute whirlwind excursion into what has been appropriately termed “disaster porn.” Horror may have its “torture porn” but action aficionados now have their own crown which is a lot more fun for what it is.
According to Box Office Mojo, Emmerich has given us four of the top five highest grossing disaster film weekend openings. The only other director included in this list is Steven Spielberg, who is obviously the better director, but it’s still a very interesting fact. Aside from War of the Worlds, the list also includes The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, Godzilla and Emmerich’s possible masterpiece, 2012.
In 2009, we begin where Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) learns that there has been an explosion on the sun causing Earth’s core temperature to increase very rapidly. Helmsley quickly returns to Washington, D.C. to deliver the message to Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) who for once takes a maniacal sounding scientist seriously and delivers the message to President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover, who seems to be literally getting too old for this).
Jumping through 2010 and 2011, President Wilson informs the other heads of state of the situation while Wilson’s daughter, Laura (Thandie Newton, still seemingly playing an SNL sketch character as she did in W) finds the Mona Lisa missing after she thought it had been sealed away for safe keeping.
Finally in the year 2012, we meet Jackson Curtis (J.C. himself, John Cusack) who drives limousines and is divorced from Kate (Amanda Peet). They have two children (Liam James and Morgan Lily) together who seem to favor Kate’s boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) but Jackson is bound to take his children camping for some father/kid time in Yellowstone. When they arrive they find Jackson’s favorite lake has evaporated and the government has sealed off the area.
While in Yellowstone, Jackson meets crazy man cliché Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson). An automatic Art Bell ripoff, Frost is convinced that the world is indeed ending and he will be broadcasting the events on his own radio show from atop a mountainside which we witness as Yellowstone erupts in a blaze of glory.
Yes, the Mayans are right and 2012 will be the end of the world as we know it. Unfortunately it just may be earlier than anyone expected, which of course puts a hiccup in any kind of evacuation plans the government may have up its sleeve. When Jackson realizes that Frost is right he hightails it to pick up his kids and ex-wife along with the new father figure and so begins what may be this year's most hilarious two-hour special effects extravaganza.
In Hot Shots: Part Deux there is a scene where Charlie Sheen’s character is continually gunning down bad guys with a machine gun. Along the bottom of the screen runs a body count keeping track of how many people he kills. At one point it proclaims, “Bloodiest Movie Ever.” With how many on-screen deaths this film throws at you — whether it's folks falling from buildings or into crevices, drowning in tsunamis or being crushed by monuments — it almost seems like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not version of The Final Destination series going global. But even funnier!
Eventually we learn that the government has been selling tickets for giant arks that are going to save the human race. Along with rich bitches there are loads of animals and things start to look even more biblical than before. When someone asks you why the Himalayas were selected as the place to build these arks the answer is "So they can crash into Mount Everest Titanic-style, of course."
The cast very obviously seems to be in on the joke even if luckily director Emmerich is not. He always takes his own films far too seriously which just makes all of the proceedings that much sillier. It’s a huge shame that the easiest jokes are never the ones that make it into the final product.
When you have Danny Glover sifting himself from debris, covered in soot from the toppling of the Washington Monument only to see a giant tidal wave plowing towards him with the USS John F. Kennedy surfing into the White House, there’s no excuse for him not uttering his most quoted line of dialogue from his Lethal Weapon series. Thankfully the rest of the movie is so outlandish and unintentionally hilarious it more than makes up for it in the long run.
If you want to see the world coming to an end and actually be able to see it, this is the film for you. No shaky cam or quick-cut editing here. Emmerich has spent a reported $200 million plus and wants you to see every penny that went into making this as bloated and gloriously over-the-top it is. There are lots of long takes where there is nothing but seemingly endless destruction taking place and when it comes to this genre, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures