Apocalypse (and How!)

Running time 158 minutes
Written by Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt

We Were Warned. So sayeth the tag line for the latest from Roland Emmerich, master of destruction. And you know what? We were! Back with the first trailer in 2008, it was clear that 2012 was gunning for the title of most-massive-most-deaths-most-destruction-in-a-movie ever: earthquakes, fiery pits, tidal waves that threaten the entire Eastern Seaboard and, generally speaking, the mother lode of apocalypse porn. And? The film so does not disappoint. Even if you take some parts from earlier end-of-days pics like (the awesome) Knowing or Mr. Emmerich’s previous offerings The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, you still won’t be prepared for the sight of California sliding into the Pacific, or a tidal wave–battleships included–washing over the White House. Every single audience member knows what’s coming (and not because of any ancient Mayan prophecy), and so it all becomes a question of the when and the how and the how big can we go.

The movie takes it sweet ole time setting up a backstory before the world goes boom. There’s John Cusack, oddly ageless, as a divorced dad who writes not-so-popular books like Farewell, Atlantis (more on this later), and tries to impress his kids, who live with his ex-wife Amanda Peet and her new husband (Tom McCarthy). Then there’s the great Chiwetel Ejiofor (master geologist) and Thandie Newton (presidential daughter and museum expert!); a semi-dastardly Oliver Platt (always so good); and Danny Glover, who plays our president and always seems to be on the verge (either while about to be engulfed by an ash cloud or washed away by a tsunami) of saying “I’m too old for this shit.” Woody Harrelson looks to be having the time of his life playing a crazy (yet oddly accurate) coot who eats pickles, and George Segal is a jazz man on a cruise ship who may or may not connect with his estranged son in Tokyo.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter! We all know this movie is just killing time before killing everybody. Luckily, the actors appear to be in on the joke (how else to explain Mr. Ejiofor’s dead-serious delivery about the merits of Farewell, Atlantis, which apparently will become one of the few tomes to make it into a brave new world). There’s a halfhearted attempt to send a message about humanity and always-respect-your-Mayans and etc., but mostly the audience howled with laughter at every solemn exchange. But happily! 2012 is reminiscent of yesteryear ’80s shlock-tastic blockbusters—total popcorn entertainment with ridiculous dialogue and impossible situations and special effects that will boggle the brain for a good two-plus hours. What does it mean that such blissful escapism comes at the hands of the apocalypse? (Can’t pay your rent? It won’t help when the sidewalk ends, pal!) When the credits finally rolled, the crowd sat for a minute dazed. “Holy crap,” the man said behind me. Indeed.