Judging from the news coming in from the US box office, this film will make a lot of money for its investors. Such is the irrationality of contemporary society. As a commodity to be marketed, of course, it has everything you need. The main thing though is the promise that you will see the biggest ever disaster special effects. While previous movie volcanoes and earthquakes destroy California, or sink it, or see the US east coast flooded by a tsunami all the way to the White House or a movie meteor has wiped out Paris or London, in this film you get to see, so the marketing promises, the whole world wiped out. 2012 is the year that the Mayans predicted the Sun would destroy the world – or at least it is that year, I presume, when you convert the Mayan calendar to the one we use today.
However, there is not much more to the movie than the more super-sized CGI created volcano, earthquake and tsunami special effects, mimicking just about every volcano, earthquake, tsunami and giant ocean wave movie you have ever seen. The action is reminiscent of the kind of action-comedy of an Indiana Jones movie or one of Nicholas Cage’s National Treasure adventures. Most action is either some kind of chase, where a car, small plane or big plane is being chased by a crack in the ground or black smoke of some kind or the avoidance (or otherwise) of such vehicles crashing somewhere. The comedy is the best part although it did feel slightly anomalous to be laughing as cities sank and billions died. Something must have been missing in the realism department.
It would hardly be worth writing about the film except for its politics. Like all planet threatening disaster movies, the film must show how the world reacts. Unlike several other such movies, the United States is not the lone fighter that saves the world, though an elder Obama-style black president and a younger Obama style black US scientist, provide the leadership of the other involved nations. Mention is made of 45 nations involved in the secret plan to save some humanity, but it is the US, Germany (led by a Merckel-like figure), Italy, France, Russian (led by A Putin-looking chap), Japan and China appear as the central players. Maybe the UK too, but I can’t remember it.
How does the group of “great powers” organise the humanity saving effort. Before I list all the main features, I should point out that most of these features – though not all – are later morally contested as the young Obama-looking scientist (while he courts the Michelle-Obama looking daughter of US President) – although some of these things he starts to protest against somewhat late in the whole scenario. First, the masses are not told of the disaster coming in a few years time – the old “they will panic and society will collapse” argument. Second, many of the seats in the vehicles in which a remnant humanity is to be saved are sold for a billion Euros a person; the rest allocated according to the prescriptions of gene pool scientists. The reason for selling the tickets was that the private sector, who were building the vehicles, needed the money to complete the project. Third, the workers involved in the massive engineering project are to be abandoned. Fourth the vehicles are organised along great nation lines: even as the world ends national states are maintained inside each vehicle. The US president early on in the film announced to the other heads of state that the world as we know it is coming to an end – but not apparently the system of nation-states nor their respective class and caste systems. Queen Elizabeth and her corgy get on board, but those who made the vehicles are to be left to their deaths. After all space is needed to provide comfortable cabins for those who have paid so much. Not to mention the other 60 or so nations who don’t seem to get a look in. Poor old Australia and Indonesia – sorry folks.
The young scientist figures, and his developing fiance, oppose most of this, eventually, though not the nation state organisation of the rescue vehicles. His main nemesis is not the US President, but the President’s main scientific advisor, whose personality is like that which many people attribute to figures such as Dick Cheney and the like. The French, German, and Italian heads of state are much more civilised, “old Europe” maybe, and the Japanese and Chinese. I won’t reveal too much of the plot “twists”, although you shouldn’t have much trouble predicting things somewhat prior to each twist happening, but the film is, I think, made to imply some little criticism of the elitist status quo. Though in the end, the message is that it can save itself as long as there is a young, idealistic and eloquent man who can appeal to everybody’s better nature. The critique – weak as it is – collapses somewhat.
Socially, however the values in the film a very conservative. The usual disaster film formula following the potential victims of the disaster as we guess who will die, who will be maimed and who will survive, takes place in a framework which is overwhelming defined by the life-saving, and soul-saving, power of the biological, nuclear family.
Perhaps the final irony is also an intentional final prod or jibe when the commander of the American vehicle gives the order for a new invasion of territory already devastated by earlier invasions prior to the end of the world.