No matter how photo-realistic the end of the world might appear, seeing anyone trying to outrun it on two legs is just plain silly.
Through the magic of movie making, an astronomical alignment causes gigantic solar flares (that no one seems to notice) to superheat the Earth’s molten core (without causing any other radiological alarm from sounding), setting the stage for world-wide volcanic eruptions, super-tsunamis, continental shifts and cinematic gold! While the governments of the world petition the rich for the funds to save humanity (and their own tail feathers), a failed writer (John Cusack) nobly tries to save his broken family and their new father figure from Armageddon. Will he succeed in traveling halfway around the world just to have the aforementioned father figure die pathetically so that he can get his family back and live happily ever after? (Hint: he’s the star.)
What’s always sad about films like this is that they look so good (incredible production design, awesome special effects) but feel so shallow due to appealing to the lowest common denominator. Drama is limited to Cusack screaming into his cell phone (take that, Nic Cage!) and a “heartless politician” arguing with a “bleeding-heart liberal” over whether to overload transports (with finite supplies) rather than leave anyone behind (other than the six billion people who didn’t make it to the secret location or never knew about it). If you want to see the most incredible end-of-the-world footage rendered since Nic Cage’s Knowing, buy a ticket. Otherwise, it’ll look just fine on your 50-inch LCD television next year.
There are two other world-ending disaster flicks that came to mind when watching this: Deep Impact and Armageddon. In a summer long ago with not one but two extinction level events, it was easy to compare and contrast the end of the world. Impact took the dramatic road in dealing with the inevitable while Armageddon took the adventurous side. 2012, however, is neither compelling enough to match up to Impact nor adventurous enough to match Armageddon; it simply spews enough plot to warrant the next effects sequence while looking for places to insert rousing music cues when something goes right.
There is one honest moment in the film that hasn’t been shown to death in preview trailers, one that resembles the father-daughter reconciliation moment in Deep Impact just before a thousand foot wall of water knocked them into the next state. Woody Harrelson’s doomsayer Charlie Frost has the best idea of all: if you’re gonna go, show up at ground zero with front-row seats to the end of everything as you know it (preferably with a tasty beverage.) The destruction of Yellowstone Park and the American Midwest is quite spectacular, actually. And if you don’t know why that’s a very real possibility, by the way, you should be watching more A&E television and a lot less so-called reality shows.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)