I’ve never seen a disaster movie I didn’t enjoy. …Wait, that’s actually not true. I thought Twister was stupid. It really annoyed me that they experienced about five tornadoes – or however many – in the span of two days. Even to this day, I vaguely recall those in-between scenes really detracting from whatever emotional buildup the movie had going. It was like, “Wow, that was an amazing experience, that was intense… what’s that? Another twister two towns over? Let’s go!” Plus I think I got a flawed copy from Blockbuster or something, because I remember that drive-in scene where they’re showing The Exorcist lasting way too long, and having to fast forward through it. (See? I can’t even handle scary movies when they’re being shown in the context of another movie). The point is, Twister sucks.
But I’m thinking about every other disaster movie that I’ve seen, and I honestly can’t recall not enjoying any of them. Daylight is one of my guilty pleasures, and a surefire candidate for a future Stamp of Approval. Armageddon, Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, even Poseidon and The Core… I just eat it up. I’ve always been a sucker for melodrama, and the disaster genre delivers in spades. It’s completely over-done, of course, and always overacted. But in small doses, between long action sequences, that works. And so I do get chills when the protagonist finds redemption. When supporting characters deal with impending deaths. When the family overcomes. Look, I realize – for the most part – that they’re terrible movies. Fake Dick Cheney’s speech. Animal crackers. A laser drill… thing. Scenes and premises can be excruciatingly bad. But you know what? I’m forgiving. I’m there for shit to blow up, for corny moments, and for a good time.
As I watched 2012, I kept thinking that I don’t know where the genre can go next. Because 2012 feels like the be all and end all of disaster movies. Practically the entire world – or well… notable landmarks in the U.S. – just collapses and gives way for the vast majority of the (considerable) duration of the movie. California falls into the ocean. Yellowstone becomes an active volcano. D.C. gets the tidal wave treatment. Las Vegas just kind of eats it. There is danger for the protagonists across a couple of continents, and in all imaginable aspects – across land, air, and sea. And, being the disaster movie veteran that I am, I definitely appreciated that they used non-traditional vehicles the entire time. You have key scenes in the movie that remind you of climactic sequences from Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, Poseidon, and everything else, only 2012 moves on to the next big thing, reaching crescendo after crescendo. It’s truly an amalgamated effort.
Of course, while it delivers with the destructive elements and the superb special effects, 2012 is chock-full of the familiar ham-handed efforts at humor and drama that characterize the genre. The father seeking redemption. The distant son he can’t understand. The heavily-accented and comedic Russian. The nutjob conspiracy theorist who isn’t so crazy. The pet. The well-meaning scientist. The evil government bureaucrat. If disaster movie bingo existed, 2012 would have provided the damn card to the seniors at the community center. The only thing missing is a great one-liner, a great scene, which is a damn shame. I still love to utter Stallone’s “The hell with me!” from Daylight. I – embarrassingly enough – get chills for the Affleck and Willis finale in Armageddon. But Danny Glover mails it in (insert the requisite “Was Morgan Freeman busy?” joke here). John Cusack doesn’t have time to breathe. And even though Chiwetel Ejiofor is game, 2012 doesn’t really have that one scene. …It does have a fucking hilarious portrayal of California’s governor, however. Also, an utterly unnecessary (and tasteless) reference to Princess Diana’s death.
So here’s the deal. 2012 gives you nothing unexpected – it is exactly what it is you would expect from the movie. You know whether or not you’re going to enjoy it before it starts. And really, 2012 is the mother of all disaster movies. Like I said: I eat that stuff up.