It’s bad form to go to a film hoping that it’s going to be a BDM (big, dumb movie) and then complain about its dumbness, but that’s what I’m about to do.
At the sparsely attended Sunday afternoon session of 2012 I whooped and cackled for most of the film’s 158 minutes. Expendable characters were easily identified and expired on cue. Heroes and those close to them survived. Relationships foundered or flourished with little dramatic effect; again, the results were utterly predictable. John Cusack was every man’s everyman. Tom McCarthy overcame the stigma of having been the despicable Scott Templeton in the final season of The Wire. Woody Harrelson earned the Woody Harrelson welcomeTM that was so wrong for his No Country For Old Men character1.
And, of course, landmarks were destroyed, cities were razed and landscapes obliterated. Just as advertised.
So, what’s my beef?
Well, partly it’s guilt. I enjoyed the spectacle of demolition, but I wasn’t entirely able to dissociate images of planes flying through cityscapes, tsunamis swamping populations and earthquakes shattering cities from the devastating real-life scenarios of recent years. And that felt quite hollow immediately after the credits had rolled.
Partly it’s lazy script development: set Jackson up as the sacrifice-everything-to-save-the-world sort of guy, sure, but then let’s see him do something other than risk the lives of a whole arkful of people just to save his family. Doesn’t gel.
The final part is that even in BDMs I think that film-makers should include at least one plot surprise. Yes, I go to BDMs for a fairly mindless ride, and I expect predictable plot elements to be brought together. Still, if every plot element is from choose-your-own-adventure, it’s just lazy film-making. In the case of 2012, I can accept all the cliches – the first daughter getting together with the geologist; the fat-cat Russian not making it onto the plane, but his innocent kids surviving; the crazy conspiracy theorist; the heroics “for the sake of the children!” – except for the death of Gordon. The film would have been so much better had Gordon survived. And it would have gone some way to fleshing out the “Saint Jackson” claims.
I do acknowledge that moaning about the lack of intelligence in a dumb movie is about as clever as having a whinge about the nutritional value of a McHappy meal. And I will say now that it’s highly likely that I’ll see Roland Emmerich’s next über-disaster-flick at the movies, because if there’s one thing worse than a disappointing BDM, it’s seeing it on the small screen.
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1. The Woody Harrelson welcome is the reflexive guffaw an audience gives when a usually comic actor appears for the first time in a film. Particularly jarring when the actor is in an uncharacteristically evil or straight-man role. Can also be known as the Glen Robbins welcome after his turn in Lantana.