Still - and I hate Emmerich for making me say this - 2012 is almost too huge a movie to dismiss. The images in it are at times awesome (buildings collapsing, entire cities falling into the ocean) and - more interesting are the political discussions the movie has about the end of the world. The sacrifices that must be made to save a few at the expense of the many. How governments might be doing the right thing by keeping it under wraps. The premise is a frightening one and not even Emmerich's Crayola touch can diminish it entirely. In short, the movie does effectively convey a vision of the end of the world.
It's also one of the more callous and mean-spirited disaster movies I've ever seen. When another movie would have humanity band together and face the threat, 2012's protagonist is all about me, me, me. It achieves the astonishing task of making John Cusack thoroughly unlikeable, even though the movie gives him kids to protect just so he doesn't look like the world's biggest coward. It's a bitter pill to swallow rooting for him to escape LA in a limo while millions plunge to their death around him (a sequence that would make a great ride at Universal Studios, by the way, it's visually awesome). It's an even more bitter pill to root for him saving his family at the sacrifice of humanity in the finale. Ejiofor as the hopeful Helmsley easily steps into the protagonist role and becomes the heart and head of the movie. Who steps up and really keeps the movie together is Oliver Platt as the White House Chief of Staff who carries out Helmsley's plan to preserve a semblance of government across the world as it ends. The race to keep that plan in place is actually kind of exciting and the debate about how secret to keep it vs humanity's right to fight for their own survival is also intriguing. I can't help but think 2012 could have been restructured for the better to be entirely about the political response to the end of the world and jettison Cusack's cheeseball, half-hearted fatherly redemption story entirely. The movie also makes a smart move in keeping under wraps the exact nature of the world's government's plan until then end, which makes for a fresh turn in the third act.
The movie is worth a look for it's astonishing larger than life special effects set pieces, but it is profoundly stupid and you may hate yourself in the morning. And may I say simply that the ending is ridiculous. It's hard to shake the populast jokes, the tacky visual gags and even the cruel streak of the movie. Emmerich would make a pretty good horror director based on some of deaths he inflicts on the innocent here. There are a few character deaths in the 3rd act that are unnecessary and completely heartless in a way that slaps an ugly stink on the entire movie. Odd choices given that so many of 2012's characters think that the goodness of humanity is what will shine through in a catastrophic crisis. In Emmerich's vision, it's selfishness that shines through. Period. Which maybe a valid point but creates a schizophrenic tone in a movie so otherwise desperate for us to cheer the heroes. If the world does come to an end, I'm sure not following Roland Emmerich to safety.