If you want to make a film about the end of the world then Roland Emmerich really is the director that you want in charge. Emmerich has created scenes of mass destruction previously in films such as Independence Day, which took its inspiration and politics from 1950s Red Menace alien invasion films, and The Day After Tomorrow, which took its cues from the at-the-time growing awareness about climate change. For 2012 Emmerich has taken the theory that the world will face a global cataclysmic disaster towards the end of 2012. The theory is based on a generally discredited interpretation of the Mayan calendar but it is nevertheless a great excuse to provide audiences with a visual orgy of utter destruction. There’s a scientific explanation provided in 2012 about what is happening but all you really need to know is that a whole bunch of earthquakes, volcanos and tsunamis are coming to seriously ruin Christmas. To Emmerich’s credit he provides an engaging spectacle of mass carnage and even builds a credible narrative to facilitate it. For the type of film that it is, 2012 is quite good.
Like many of Emmerich’s films, 2012 contains a lengthy build-up to the action where we are introduced to a host of characters from around the world who are either experts who are aware of what is to come or everyday people caught up in the carnage. Included in the mostly strong cast are John Cusack playing the Everyman character Jackson Curtis, a failed novelist who is separated from his wife, and Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the Righteous Scientist character Adrian Helmsley who stands up to the government lackeys who want to keep what is happening a secret. Emmerich also impressively includes a subplot about an Indian family and a Chinese family, reminding us that the End of Days affects people other than just Americans. Naturally an absurd degree of coincidence will ultimately link these characters together but getting to know them is important so that their plight through the film engages our attention. This way we don’t focus too long on the fact that billions and billions of people are being obliterated. There is also a dog for us to worry about too because when the world is coming to an end, we will still care about the fate of one single little dog.
The big special effect sequences depicting a lot of stuff getting destroyed mainly consist of elaborate CGIs but they are mostly exhilarating and emotionally engaging. Curtis and his family’s escape first from an earthquake in Los Angeles, and then a volcano in Yellowstone are incredibly impressive sequences that seriously get the adrenalin pumping. While the CGIs work when being used to replicate recognisable objects they are less successful in creating the unfamiliar objects that feature heavily in the final act of the film and overall 2012 does lose its momentum about half way through. Nevertheless, the resolution is serviceable and for the most part 2012 delivers in terms of spectacle and character engagement.