Life is simple in Roland Emmerich's films. Confronted with unprecedented perils on a scale never before seen, the characters in his disaster epics manage to reaffirm their broken loves, make amends for slipshod parenting and, most impressively, outrun fireballs and certain death with their hides and wits intact. This is true whether the peril comes from a sudden influx of illegal aliens (Independence Day), a pregnant and irradiated escapee from Ishiro Honda's nightmares (Godzilla) or nature run amok (The Day After Tomorrow).
Cinematic catharsis of this sort is probably necessary and certainly entertaining, and it's based on a series of melodramatic tropes understood by everyone from Cecil B. DeMille to Ray Harryhausen to Irwin Allen. The German-born Emmerich takes the disaster-movie genre to its logical conclusion in 2012, obliterating or reconfiguring vast swaths of the planet's surface as solar storms boil the earth's core. Over the duration of this 158-minute thrill ride, there are homages to apocalyptic exercises of decades past (particularly producer George Pal's terrific 1951 When Worlds Collide) and plenty of cheeky references to Emmerich's own résumé.
John Cusack plays beleaguered writer Jackson Curtis. Separated from his wife (Amanda Peet) and kids (Liam James, Morgan Lily), he stumbles across Woody Harrelson's conspiracy theorist/wild-eyed prophet while on a visit to Yellowstone National Park. Cut to the White House, where ultra-noble President Wilson (Danny Glover) and his squirrelly chief of staff (Oliver Platt) are already way ahead of the masses - they've known about the end of the world for a while now. Cut from there to myriad subplots and secondary characters as disaster looms and, well, you pretty much know the drill by now.
2012's supersized popcorn thrills and sappy melodrama counter current real-world terrors, and the film is, by turns, thrilling, ridiculous and just plain big, dumb fun.
Eastgate, Point, Star