Every now and then, even the most artistic and critical (and sometimes pretentious) of us film lovers enjoy a solid guilty pleasure. For me, that movie is 2012. The first time I saw 2012 I was 15 years old. My decision to convince my grandmother, my aunt and my aunt’s friends to accompany me was definitely a bizarre one, its ridiculousness only rivalled by this magnificently flawed movie. Despite their groans and cries at the absurdity they were witnessing, I was undeterred and fully focussed on enjoying this brilliant bumbling behemoth of a film.
The film is about a once-popular myth that in the year 2012, a series of catastrophic events, namely tsunamis and earthquakes, would end the Earth as we know it. The film is entertaining; the various situations of near-annihilation are as fun as they are funny, and even slightly terrifying. The special effects of the film are outstanding and still hold up (a recent watch during the lockdown confirmed this). The generosity and verve with which the tsunami waves, earth-shattering earthquakes, and mass destruction are displayed is truly spectacular. If it wasn’t the end of the world we were talking about, I’d even call it a sight to behold.
Two scenes in particular were truly striking with impactful special effects. The first features the central cast flying over Los Angeles as it sinks and is completely and utterly destroyed. The sensation of watching trains fall, building collapse, and cars drop into football-field-sized holes was truly surreal and terrifying. Another scene featuring an Indian scientist and his family running from a tsunami was also shocking. The size of the wave was astounding. It looked authentic (as authentic as a 300-metre-tall wave can be), powerful, and heavily distressing.
The film sets up the impending doomsday in an interesting but clichéd manner. We see an Indian scientist predicting the incoming destruction years in advance, while world leaders and high ranked government officials act in an irresponsible and selfish manner. All this makes for an exciting beginning to the narrative.
The characters may not be deftly written but are likeable and hard not to root for. The movie puts an underachieving writer, his kids, and his ex-wife at the core (pun intended) of the story along with his rich Russian billionaire employer and his ex-wife’s new husband.
Lead actor John Cusack as a down-on-his-luck writer injects a few laughs and dumb humour into the plot, and acts ably with the material provided. He’s smarter than he comes across with sharp parental instincts. Amanda Peet’s character as Cusack’s ex-wife is adequate and more pleasant as the film progresses. She displays a decent range of emotions for a film where the central characters are skyscraper-tall waves. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton impress as two individuals in high places with a strong moral compass and natural leadership skills. Zlatko Buric as the eccentric, so-clichéd-that-it’s-funny wealthy Russian is the perfect antithesis to the central cast. He (unknowingly) is amusing and a classic “douchebag” with a soft side.
However, the highlight of the film is Woody Harrelson, and the main reason I visit this film annually. He is immensely amusing, ridiculous, and entertaining (the three most striking elements of the film) in a short but pivotal role. He plays a peculiar but strangely on-the-money conspiracy theorist. Harrelson steals every frame he is in with his bizarre and comical acting. His character is so ridiculous that he comes across as weirdly believable.
The film suffers when it takes itself too seriously and doesn’t embrace its nonsensical nature (like it did with Harrelson’s character). The overly political overview is also distracting and poorly crafted. The film is definitely twenty to thirty minutes too long, especially due to unnecessary social commentary. However, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable and even fascinating. The action sequences are remarkably constructed, genuinely thrilling, and suspenseful. 2012 is the perfect fodder to kick back and relax to at the end of the day, with (copious amounts of) popcorn and Coca-Cola in either hand.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.