2012 outdid most previous disaster epics by not just destroying a bridge (pity the poor Golden Gate), or a city (New York, Tokyo and others having been repeatedly flattened by lizards, aliens, tidal waves). In 2009, director Roland Emmerich, co-writing with Harold Kloser, used the hoo-haw over the then-approaching Mayan Calendar’s wrapup date of the title as a tease, but then went the Science route by unleashing the eventual Polar Shift. That reset suffices to scramble entire continents and CGI-demolish everything but the oddly endearing mass-audience thirst for mass destruction. Los Angeles gets it, so do Rio and Rome, the Yellowstone Caldera blows, and waves thousands of feet high make insurance payoffs less likely than they already are. Asteroids, comets, Martians and fire-breathing reptiles are kiddie tantrums compared to Mama Earth with severe indigestion. $200,000,000 worth of CGI gets the job done. It puts the Cool! back in Awesome!
“Kate, California is going down! Pack up the kids now!”
Besides the truly razzle-dazz special effects, what makes this fun is a cast of good actors who get that they’re in something so outlandish that the best way to play it is straight, which increases the inherent geewhiz+laff factor of seeing a 1000-foot tidal wave smashing an aircraft carrier into the White House, or hearing the captain of an ark (built in China) the size of Delaware announce that “We’re headed straight for the north face of Mount Everest, Mr. Anheuser. And if we can’t start our engines, we will not survive the impact.”
Doing their jobs like the pros they are: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Tom McCarthy, Liam James, Morgan Lily, George Segal, Zlatco Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Blu Mankuma, Stephen McHattie, and the billions of us panicking peasants who don’t make it.
In the U.S. it came in 15th place, with a scoop of $166,100,000, but international apocalypse watchers pushed the harvest to $769,600,000. Critics with a sense of humor got with the gig, dullards insisted on pointing out the idiocy, obvious enough for 5-year-olds who were too smart to not be entertained. Fully 845 people worked on the visual effects (yes, I actually counted them! two beers worth, thank you) to make all those cars, buildings, pedestrians, planes, trains, landmarks and coastlines collapse during 158 minutes of eye-wonking abandon. Single best moment: when ‘Tamara’ flips ‘Yuri’ the bird. Theater erupted in laughter and applause. Popcorn cataclysm gives Cusack enough impossible hair-breadth escapes to out-Bond a Marvel hero.