Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Having exhausted the commercial potential of crystals and angels—so ’80s and ’90s, respectively—the New Age industry has spent much of this decade sounding the siren about the year 2012. A date of great significance on the Mayan Long Count Calendar for those who choose to look at it a certain way, 2012 will either bring about the end of the world or usher in a new era of human consciousness, greater understanding between nations, talking ponies, ice-cream fountains, random acts of kindness, and spontaneous bursts of music from the Windham Hill catalog. Guess which one director Roland Emmerich chose to portray in 2012? Since Independence Day, Emmerich has made a career of taking down familiar landmarks. He stuck grabby images of that destruction into the trailers for his movies Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, hoping audiences would show up to see what was in between. Sure, there were a couple of asides into pseudo-history in the form of The Patriot and 10,000 BC, but these now look like breath-catching exercises. Emmerich is here to destroy the world.


In 2012, the disaster is caused by some combination of Mayan prophecy, sun flares, neutrinos, and the Earth’s fragile crust. Or something. The movie isn’t terribly concerned about causes. It also isn’t particularly concerned about effects. Opening in 2009, it follows brilliant scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor as he uncovers the horrible truth about the earth’s impending doom, then relays it to president Danny Glover. Glover is thus saddled with a horrible problem: How to preserve the human species, even though life as we know it is about to end. The film, on the other hand, takes on no such burden, letting the plan to offer refuge from the apocalypse to the chosen and the wealthy pass without a lot of hand-wringing. Instead, it shifts the focus to struggling author John Cusack as he becomes aware of the coming disaster and desperately attempts to save his family. Because what’s a few billion corpses when a photogenic lead is at stake?

Like a blockbuster updating of a Twilight Zone episode, only with explosions instead of all that sticky moral questioning, 2012 is ultimately only about finding new ways to topple monoliths. Only they don’t feel that new. Independence Day began a game of landmark-destroying one-upmanship. Here, Emmerich takes the competition global, but the soundtrack’s organ-rattling low-end makes a deeper impact than the film’s visuals. He already took out the White House 13 years ago, so the second time around doesn’t feel so shocking, particularly in the middle of a movie already overstuffed with go-nowhere subplots lurching toward a final act lifted from a movie that can’t be named without spoiling the plot’s one surprise. (Okay, it’s Titanic. But as the floodwaters start to rise, it wouldn’t take the prophetic skills of the ancient Mayans to figure that out.)