This is the way the world ends — not with a whimper but with a bang. At least that's what we get with 2012, a movie that builds upon the Mayan myth (well, we hope it's a myth) that the world as we know it will no longer exist in the year 2012.
At the film's start, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) goes to India to see a colleague's research at a copper mine. It turns out, thanks to giant solar eruptions, that the Earth's core is heating up, something that will inevitably trigger tectonic plate movement and devastating earthquakes. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a struggling sci-fi writer who can't quite cut it as a single dad, stumbles upon evidence while on a crappy campy trip with his kids in Yellowstone. There, he meets a wackjob conspiracy theorist named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who warns him a huge volcano is about to erupt. Jackson races back to California to get his ex-wife and her current boyfriend, and they barely make it out of there before the whole state slips into the ocean.
They eventually learn they've got to go to China where world leaders have secretly conspired to build ships that will save only the wealthy and privileged. Of course, they must avoid every possible natural disaster (earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves) along the way. And we hear one righteous speech after another as the U.S. president (Danny Glover) finally tells the populace what is at hand. "The nuts with the cardboard signs had it right all along," says someone.
The film has plenty going for it. The special effects are amazing. Landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier slip into the ocean and luxury hotels in Vegas disintegrate. The Washington monument topples, and a giant wave wipes out the White House. Cusack is great as the loser who has to dig deep to redeem himself during a time of crisis. But at 158 minutes, the movie is too long (the protracted ending is particularly torturous), and there are too many subplots (most involving strained relationships between parents and siblings) that don't really amount to anything, even though characters from different parts of the globe do end up crossing paths once the Earth's continents start shifting.
Ultimately, you have to question the timing of the movie's release. It's such a loud, noisy, CGI-driven affair, you half expect it to be part of the summer schedule. Coming out as the holidays are upon us, 2012 seems out of place, even if the Mayans did project the world ending in December.