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Should I Watch..? '2012' (2009)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Promotional poster for "2012"

Promotional poster for "2012"

What's the Big Deal?

2012 is an epic disaster film released in 2009 which was co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich, the man behind other disaster flicks like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 1998's Godzilla. It follows a selection of characters who are facing a series of cataclysmic events apparently foretold by the ancient Mayans who predicted the end of the world in 2012. Without question, it is the disaster movie to end all disaster movies as humanity is wiped out by massive earthquakes, tidal waves, cyclones and meteor storms. Despite mixed critical reaction, the film went on to become the second most successful film of Emmerich's career behind Independence Day and eventually grossed a massive $769 million worldwide.


What's It About?

Back in 2009, geologist Adrian Helmsley meets up with astrophysicist Satnam Tsurutani who discovers that neutrinos are heating up the Earth's core. Returning to the US to present his findings to the President, his work initiates a secret project between the G8 nations and China to build massive arks capable of sustaining a limited number of people for the forthcoming apocalypse. All of this is kept hidden from the public's attention.

In 2012, struggling writer Jackson Curtis is working as a chauffeur to Russian billionaire Yuri Karpov and his family. Spending a weekend away in Yellowstone National Park with his kids, who normally stay with Jackson's ex wife Kate, Jackson uncovers a cordoned-off area of the park and decides to investigate. They then find Helmsley conducting research with a military escort and after a brief exchange, are allowed to leave. But no sooner do they learn the secrets of the forthcoming disasters from conspiracy-nut Charlie Frost, the entire region is subject to a massive earthquake and so the end of humanity begins...


What's to Like?

It's safe to assume that you have an interest in 2012 because you enjoy a good disaster flick, yes? From Emmerich's own contributions like the ones mentioned above to the classics like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. In which case, this will be the only movie you will ever need. Cities break apart and fall into the sea, earthquakes rip up entire continents and everywhere on Earth gets flooded with vast amounts of seawater. Of course, the characters fade into the background once the action kicks off and after that, it's a simple battle of them against whatever cataclysm they're facing next. And for a film that doesn't really make any attempt at plausibility, you can at least have some fun with the mindless destruction. Take the moment when the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is ripped apart, forever separating the fingers of Man and God before rolling across St Peter's Square into the terrified senior members of the Catholic church.

The cast, in truth, know that nobody is going to take the film seriously or talk about their performances against such wanton digital destruction. The script also abides by this presumption so it feels like it can get away with lines like "It looks like the neutrinos coming from the sun have mutated into a new kind of nuclear particle. They're heating up the earth's core and suddenly act like microwaves." Nobody cares! We want to see the White House digitally destroyed, we want to see LA blown to bits and we want to see Las Vegas ripped apart by an earthquake that perfectly follows the Strip behind a speeding car weaving its way through the debris. 2012 is all too happy to oblige.

The film is one long destruction sequence after another, which gets repetitive quite quickly

The film is one long destruction sequence after another, which gets repetitive quite quickly

Fun Facts

  • The movie is banned in North Korea because 2012 marked the centenary of the birth of the First Great Leader Kim Il-Sung. Several people were arrested after watching pirated copies of the film. Surely they'd suffered enough?
  • Jackson Curtis is, of course, the real name of rapper 50 Cent backwards. Emmerich is a massive fan and wanted to name the character after him.
  • Irish comedian and science geek Dara O'Briain denounced the film during a stand-up show in 2010, mocking the reason for the apocalypse for not being based on any rational science whatsoever.

What's Not to Like?

So very much. The script is dumber than playing Hopscotch in a minefield, somehow allowing a humble writer to suddenly become the jack-of-all-trades lead he's needed to be. Worse still, Cusack is not the actor for that kind of role. Quirky hitman maybe but not some heroic jock. He's not helped by the screenplay which plays everything up to maximum dramatic effect and even allows Platt's Chief Of Staff to become the main villain of the piece. Escapes are always made at the last minute, cities are always destroyed to allow one possible escape route only... But it keeps playing the same tricks on us and before long, it does get very repetitive.

In fact, that's 2012 in a nutshell. It shows us the same trick over and over again and while it might be mildly amusing to see such senseless loss of life and damage to property (if one were that way inclined), it gets less so each time. And if you've seen any of Emmerich's other disaster-porn films like The Day After Tomorrow then the chances are, you will have seen these tricks already. When President Glover gives his final address from the White House to the nation or what's left of it, I could help but think of Bill Pullman's supposedly stirring address from Independence Day before the supposedly hopeless battle with the alien vessel. It wouldn't surprise me if Emmerich had recycled the dialogue word-for-word and removed the overly patriotic references to the date...

Cusack is hopelessly miscast as the man of action and is swamped with the rest of the cast by the effects

Cusack is hopelessly miscast as the man of action and is swamped with the rest of the cast by the effects

Should I Watch It?

Destruction fetishists might get off on it but 2012 is quite possibly the dumbest excuse for action I've ever seen. Devoid of any memorable performances, it's left to the special effects crew to carry the picture and they just about do it. But if all you're looking for is epic scenes of sweeping devastation then this is just about as good as you'll get. Don't blame me if you get a headache afterwards...

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Great For: undemanding action fans, ramping up fear about the year 2012 (which came to nothing), comedians looking for material

Not So Great For: paranoid fliers, conspiracy theorists, brain cells

What Else Should I Watch?

It's safe to say that Emmerich has it covered when it comes to huge disaster movies. You want aliens then you watch Independence Day. How about a giant prehistoric monster - that would be Godzilla then. What about dramatic climatic shifts that happen overnight? May I present The Day After Tomorrow to you. And although he didn't direct it, he was smart enough to executive produce Eight Legged Freaks so he could cross "giant spiders" off his list as well.

You might argue that I'm being harsh on 2012 and you may have a point. Some people don't like to think when they watch a film but if you're not going to claim any sense of plausibility then why not go completely off the rails? The Sci-Fi channel worked this out a while ago and have funded an ever-expanding range of giant creature-features from sclock-meisters The Asylum. The most famous of these would be the terrible Sharknado which dispenses with reality and settles on having crude CG sharks raining down on the terrified population of LA. After all, if neutrinos can mutate then why not have sharks exclusively swept up by a tornado and dumped onto the citizens of LA?

Main Cast


John Cusack

Jackson Curtis

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Dr Adrian Helmsley

Amanda Peet

Kate Curtis

Thandie Newton

Dr Laura Wilson

Danny Glover

President Thomas Wilson

Oliver Platt

Chief Of Staff Carl Anheuser

Woody Harrelson

Charlie Frost

Thomas McCarthy

Dr Gordon Silberman

Jimi Mistry

Dr Satnam Tsurutani

Technical Info

DirectorRonald Emmerich


Ronald Emmerich & Harald Kloser

Running Time

158 minutes

Release Date (UK)

13th November, 2009




Action, Disaster, Sci-Fi

© 2015 Benjamin Cox

Soap Box

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on August 23, 2015:

OK you didn't go easy on it. All I was trying to say is that I gave the movie the lowest possible rating when I reviewed it at a now-closed website at its release. It does meet certain disaster film criteria, but I considered it big-budget Grade Z material. The 2012 movie is of the quality viewers would get if Sharknado were big budget instead of Syfy schlock.

Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on August 23, 2015:

I reckon stuff like this appeals to the lowest common denominator, which I rarely sink to if I can help it. Looking at "2012" from the perspective of someone wanting to see a disaster movie, it isn't actually that bad because it does everything you'd expect from such a ludicrous premise. However, is this enough for me to recommend it? No, it isn't. The critic in me (as well as the average viewer) understands that this is a stupid, chaotic, poorly performed piece of digital garbage. But it has a quality to it that the likes of "Sharknado" badly miss. Having said that, I would rather wash my eyeballs in sulphuric acid than subject myself to "2012" ever again. And that's your idea of going easy on it?

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on August 22, 2015:

I think you're being easy on 2012. Emmerich is at his worst when he's his own auteur on films like this and The Day After Tommorow. The redeeming quality of films like these is their camp value.

Keith Abt from The Garden State on August 22, 2015:

I thought this movie was hilarious. The problem is, it's not supposed to be a comedy.

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