Disaster movies don't come any bigger than the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, and 2012 imagines this scenario by unleashing modern day cinematic pyrotechnics to full effect.
Some intense solar flares are cooking the Earth's core. In the year 2012, our globe goes into melt-down mode, and it's pretty much the end of civilization. Massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are unleashed throughout the world on mostly unsuspecting earthlings. The continents shift, and the north and south poles relocate. It's all pretty unsettling stuff.
World governments, including the US President (Danny Glover) and a geologist Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), have had little time to prepare a plan for the survival of the human species. They've nevertheless secretly conjured up massive ark-like vessels secretly built near the Himalayan mountains, to save the lives of selected scientists, politicians, and those who can afford to buy their way on-board.
Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a limousine driver with a failed marriage and a flamed-out career as a writer, trips over a doomsday merchant (Woody Harrelson, deliciously over the top and appropriately on top of a mountain), stumbles upon the truth, and desperately races to save himself, his former wife (Amanda Peet) and kids.
2012 does not pretend to be anything other than a rollercoaster thrill ride, an epic disaster movie built on a foundation of deliriously effective special effects. Director Robert Emmerich conjures up scenes of destruction on a massive scale, lovingly crafted and demonstrating the state-of-the-art in computer generated visuals.
As a movie, 2012 unfortunately wades straight into Hollywood cliche swampland, with arduous debates about who deserves to be saved, some superfluous characters making the briefest of appearances and mostly just cluttering up the film, and a cringe-inducing climax in which a heroic sacrifice is sacrificed at the altar of guaranteed syrup-heavy happy endings.
With no major stars demanding a huge share of screen time, Cusack and Ejiofor provide a solid tandem to keep the action moving, Cusack from everyman's perspective and Ejiofor from inside the government bunkers. 2012 also offers a throwback to the disaster movies of old where actors well past their best-by date populated minor characters. George Segal and Stephen McHattie stumble past the screen here on their way to a welcome pay-cheque.
If the world is going to end, it may as well be spectacular, and 2012 presents an entertaining-enough vision of God hitting the "reset" button.