Well, you and I are going to perish. But don’t worry, because special survival vessels are being built for heads of state and the super-rich, so the post-apocalyptic world can be repopulated by snivelling politicians, sinister oil sheiks and thieving Russian billionaires. Hurray for humanity!
Director Roland Emmerich must really hate the White House. In Independence Day he had aliens blow it up. In his latest end-of-days special-effects extravaganza (which makes Independence Day look low-key and thoughtful by comparison) he has it crushed by an aircraft carrier being whisked along on a huge tidal wave. But you’ll have to wait a while before you get to see any of the big-bucks destruction that you’ve paid your money for. First we have to have the science part, the plodding build-up where underground scientists in India realise that the earth’s core is hotting up and destabilising the planet, or something, and the White House springs into action, hatching a top-secret plan to save all those who matter (who seem to be mostly White House staff and their families), leaving the rest of us plebs to take our chances with Armageddon.
Only one man stands between the world and certain destruction, and that man is failed-author-turned-limo-driving-everyman John Cusack, or Jackson Curtis (note the initials, folks – remind you of another saviour of mankind?). Actually Jackson’s not trying to save the world, just his family, who in keeping with disaster-movie convention he is estranged from, usurped by his ex-wife’s more dependable new husband, Gordon. Standing in the way of a romantic reconciliation between Jackson and his former wife (who still loves him, dammit!), Gordon’s prospects for surviving until the end of the movie look grim.
The film sorts the doomed from the spared along the usual Hollywood criteria. The younger, whiter, more Western, female, attractive and morally innocent you are, the better the odds in your favour. If you’re a cute child of the main character, you can saunter through the midst of an earthquake (which Jackson and co do early on, in one of the film’s most enjoyable sequences) and emerge without a scratch. Pets will also be fine. But if you’re non-white, non-English speaking, old or morally flawed, better start saying your prayers. The exceptions are an earnest black scientist (a more dignified performance than the film deserves from Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the daughter of the black US president (Thandie Newton) who manage to carry on an ethnic-minority flirtation amidst the carnage. When you hear his nauseatingly “rousing” speech about how the White House elite can’t just abandon the proles – actually the oil sheiks and Russian billionaires – to their fate, you’ll wish he’d gone down earlier in the earthquake. 2012 is breath-taking in its cynicism and near-racism. Time and again, it takes time out from the CGI devastation to introduce sympathetic characters (usually non-white), just to annihilate them seconds later. It crushes, drowns and mangles anyone not expedient to the plot or Hollywood hierarchy.
The special effects are impressive, but they cannot hold audience interest in a predictable, cheesy film so long that it feels like it might be 2012 before it ends. And while when you buy a ticket for this, you’re not expecting realism, this disaster-movie cliché fest really strains credibility. A case in point: the only two heads of state who self-sacrificially give up their passes to salvation and nobly go down with their people are the US president and Italian PM. The models for these heroic roles when the film was conceived? Bush and Berlusconi.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
On at: : Cinema City Cotroceni, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex Cinema, Starplex, The Light