Friday, April 15, 2011

2012 Review

My review of Inception was hardly glowing and based on some pretty unapologetic criticisms of not just the movie but the psychological soundness of those who enjoyed it. While I'm not going to back down from those comments, I will post a glowing review of 2012. That way, those who love Inception can discount my disgust as the ramblings of a madman and refer to my 2012 review as proof of my lunacy. To all the Inception fans out there: this is my gift to you.

2012 is everything a disaster movie should be.

I typically hate big budget Hollywood movies, particularly disaster movies, and with good reason. They all share an idiotic need to wax poetical about the courage of man. About his tenacity and strength, his passion and his bravery. While lauding our species' admittedly admirable emotional traits is fine, in disaster movies this typically results in sweeping scores, overly-earnest acting, and a conclusion so smugly self-congratulatory that I can almost feel the sticky jizz of the producers all over my face. These movies say nothing to me about my life and whatever exhilaration I might get from the destruction is undone by one cringe-inducing emotional beat after another.

It's not exactly rocket-science why disaster movies are easy money for Hollywood. We humans have a fascination with our own destruction. Perhaps it's the egoist in all of us wanting to be the children of the apocalypse (eternal fame), or perhaps we just want validation for our belief that the world is spinning out of control, but the appeal of meteors, aliens, and other ELE's is well documented. That being said, the past 15 years have seen an explosion of quite literal extinction movies being churned out from Hollywood. Whether this is due to a shift in the cultural zeitgeist or just a result of improved special effects technology is unclear. What is clear is that 2012 is a Johnny-come-lately to the doomsday party and, almost from the first trailer, elicited more scoffs than interest.

But while it may be late to the party, it is, in my opinion, the belle of the ball. Mind you, I never was particularly attracted to the homecoming queen. But give me an artsy-depressive weirdo with a sharp tongue and we're cooking with gas. 2012 is not the most popular girl in school. It is the subversive chick with too many rings and a slouch. But this is exactly what the disaster genre has been needing for quite some time.

2012 ostensibly stars John Cusak in the leading role but the screen time between him and Chiwetel Ejiofor is almost equal. (Goddamnit Chiwetel...I'm going to be typing your name a lot in this review and Ejiofor does not exactly trip off the fingers. Or does it? Wait...Ejiofor. Ejiofor. Chiwetel. ... My god. I take that back Chiwetel, your names, both first and last are actually extremely easy to type! Forgive my xenophobic ignorance.) This split in the leading role may well have been a post-production decision to make the movie less satirical. Because, let's face it, John Cusak is not one for overly-earnest acting. Putting a sweeping score over him knitting his brow is like putting a tutu on a pit bull: it just doesn't work.

"Oh for chrissakes."
But this is the brilliance of 2012. It is fun in a way that most disaster movies can never be despite their orgasms of destruction. Through the lens of John Cusak's depressed everyman, we see the world's destruction for what it is: kinda a bummer. Combine Cusak's natural irony with wanton destruction so cartoonish in its violence and 2012 veers almost into the territory of outright satire in the vein of the Scary Movie series.

Almost. Thankfully 2012 doesn't go so far as to overtly wink at the audience (notwithstanding a cameo by Woody Harrelson) and is more enjoyable for it. It is neither an overly dramatic movie nor a tongue-in-cheek parody. In a way, it is to disaster movies what High Fidelity was to romantic comedies: not genre defying but refreshing in its humanity. There is something beautiful in the softer reaction of its characters to the end of civilization. Life can be a precious thing without being dramatized through sweeping scores and slow-motion heroics. It can be glorious without being consequential. And this is a theme that 2012, perhaps in spite of the best attempts of its producers, manages to nail.

The aforementioned Chiwetel Ejiofor does the lion's share of the work in balancing 2012's nihilist streak with gravitas. Thankfully he is not a super hero, masquerading as a blue-collar everyman (as Hollywood is want to do); he's a scientist and a fairly nerdy one at that. And, while idealistic, he is still relateable. His protestations for simple compassion are corny but valid and even the overwrought conclusion can't undo two hours of light-hearted but heart-felt chaos. He balances the borderline morose performance by Cusak with enough recognizable grandstanding to make it clear that 2012 still attempts to be considered as a 'serious' (given it's genre, it's hard to use that word without snorting) disaster movie.

Yeah right.
Speaking of the disaster, it must be noted that 2012 has some of the most outrageous but technically incredible special effects ever put to film. There are several sequences with an airplane that are almost comically impossible and the destruction of the White House by aircraft carrier is borderline hilarious. But the shots are so well stitched together that the absurd scenes of destruction are juxtaposed with the thrill of watching things crumble. And, in a way, the miraculous escapes further reinforce the theme of the movie. Human savvy and courage don't get Cusak and co safely underneath a flying subway train; blind stupid luck does. There but for the grace of God etc etc.

2012 is not a work of art nor a deep movie. Those looking for something brainy in their apocalypse won't find it here, despite the praise lavished above. There is minimal character development beyond the obligatory estranged father angle and, while genuine, the trumpeting of human decency is one-note. The movie does give Oliver Platt's bad-guy character, if not some redeeming lines, then at least some hard-to-argue-with practicality. And there are plenty of disaster-movie trappings seemingly tacked on for the sake of completeness; the budding romance between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton being particularly offensive in it's slap-dashedness. (Thandie Newton? SHE'S in this? Did half the cast ask for their names to be removed from the marquees?) Finally there is a side-story involving some Tibetian monks who's only purpose, it seems, is be the deus ex machina that saves Cusak and co.

Despite these problems, 2012 is good. I include the laundry list only to temper the expectations. You should know what you're getting yourself into, dear reader. 2012 is not deep but it doesn't try to be. And, perhaps inadvertently, in not trying for depth, it winds up feeling more human than so many other disaster movies of it's kind.

So there you go Inception fans. A gift-wrapped reason for all movie opinions to be discounted.

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