Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


People predict the end of the world all the time. Most ignore it, the self-proclaimed prophet rightfully dismissed as a nut job. For some reason, however, the 2012 prophecy really caught on. The concept had been kicking around since the seventies, giving it more “legitimacy,” I guess. The myth also had the good ol' appeal to antiquity going for it. Whatever the reason, a surprising number of people were genuinely concerned that the world might end on December 21, 2012. Surely adding fuel to the fire was Roland Emmerich's “2012.” (Considering “The Day After Tomorrow” was based on an Art Bell/Whitney Streiber book, it seems Emmerich listens to a lot of Coast to Coast A.M.) The film used the paranoia surrounding the date as free promotion but actually had little to do with the pseudo-scientific belief. In fact, it was another chance for Roland Emmerich to create an ever-bigger disaster movie.

In 2009, it is discovered that solar flares will melt the Earth's cores and cause the magnetic poles to shift.  The resulting geological reshaping of the world will be cataclysmic, killing most of the human race. The world's governments work in secret to ensure humanity's survival, building massive arcs. Now it's 2012 and failing sci-fi author Jackson Curtis doesn't know any of this. He's just trying to stay in touch with his kids, who prefer their mom's new boyfriend. On a camping trip, he stumbles upon a conspiracy theorist who promotes the belief. Massive earthquakes shake L.A. afterwards, causing Jackson to believe the crazy man is right. As the devastation begin, he works to protect his family.

When talking about “The Day After Tomorrow,” I referred to it as an excuse for Roland Emmerich to throw every natural disasters he could think of into one movie. Completely divorcing himself from even the thinnest wisp of plausible science allows Emmerich to craft an even bigger disaster movie. “2012” begins with a massive earthquake completely destroying L.A. The characters move from car to plane, experiencing several very close calls as buildings topple above them and the ground falls out from under them. Soon afterwards, the Yellowstone caldera erupts, allowing Emmerich to depict an enormous volcano on-screen. Our heroes just barely escape this catastrophe as well. And the movie's just getting started, as enormous walls of ash and massive tidal waves follow soon after. It's like the director got a chance to include every natural calamity that didn't make it into “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Through it all, Emmerich keeps his focus on the puny humans on the ground. The likelihood of John Cusack and his kids outrunning both an earthquake and a volcano are low. However, the action is well choreographed enough that you feel their adrenaline. Jackson's limo dives under buildings and bridges as they collapse, or leaps over suddenly appearing fissures. Once in an airplane, they're diving around the remains of buildings. It's directed with surprising intensity. Yet “2012” does not come off as a grim film. There's a lot of humor, the best of which is provided by the interaction between the characters. (The worst of it, bursting septic lines and Sunday-driving old ladies, is less than ideal.) Against all odds, “2012” never quite looses sight of its human element, making the mayhem a lot more meaningful.

While the disaster movies of the seventies have always been an inspiration for Emmerich, it seems “2012” is especially indebted to these blockbusters of the past. As in those films, “2012” follows a large cast spread across multiple locations, slowly brought together. And it's a good cast too. John Cusack brings a nice frantic energy to Jackson. He plays off Amanda Peet well, as his ex-wife. Chiwetel Ejiofor is humane and insightful as the geologist who predicts the event. One of the quirkier, less explored subplots involves Ejiofor's jazz singer dad, played by Blu Mankuma, on a cruise ship caught in the disaster. (George Segal, previously of “Rollercoaster,” appears as his partner.) Danny Glover can't quite match Morgan Freeman's high water mark, as fictional president in a disaster flick, but he sure tries. Oliver Platt, meanwhile, is perfectly greasy as the movie's asshole bureaucrat villain. Woody Harrselson is similarly perfectly cast as the unhinged, pickle-obsessed conspiracy theorist. In fact, that casting might be a little too on the nose.

Disappointingly, “2012” has something else in common with “The Day After Tomorrow.” Both films begin with impressive sequences of mass destruction. After the White House is flattened by the combined efforts of a huge wave and a rogue aircraft carrier, a second half focusing on survival begins. This is simply not as compelling. Watching our heroes travel through the Chinese country side and then fight their way onto one of the arcs features fewer opportunities for crowd-pleasing spectacle. People get caught in the huge gears and water floods the ship but it lacks the immediate danger of the film's first half. A sequence especially devoted to Cusack swimming back and forth through the flooded lower half is even a bit hard to follow. “2012” drags to its conclusion, rather than ending on a thunderous note. The destruction should've been spaced out a lot more evenly.

Naming your movie after a date, and the pseudo-scientific paranoia related to it, was probably not a great idea from a historical perspective. The 2012 hysteria will only become sillier the further away from it we get. Truthfully, “2012” could've been called anything else – “Solar Flare” or “End Times” or something like that – and the movie would be largely unchanged. Either way, it's a pretty solid modern disaster flick. By focusing primarily on the little humans on the ground, and upping the carnage to previously unseen levels, Emmerich manages to craft some of the most intense set-pieces of his career. A weak second half is all that's preventing it from being a totally enjoyable popcorn flick all the way through. [6.5/10]

[X] Awards Bait Ballad*
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[X] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast

*The Academy somehow overlooked Adam Lambert's “Time for Miracles.”

No comments: