The End of the World as John Cusack Knows It

Scrape and I went to see 2012 tonight. I’d seen the reviews, so I knew the dialogue would be stilted, the scenarios absurd, and the acting less than Oscar quality–but I also knew the special effects would be tons of fun.

No disappointment there. Tsunamis! Massive earthquakes! The destruction of Washington, D.C.! Hairbreadth escapes from all-but-certain doom! Children in peril!

It was fun. And John Cusack is still cute, and I’ve always liked Amanda Peet. And Woody Harrelson has a blast as a crazy doomsday DJ.

But the plot? Not so good. While we all love to watch doom and destruction from the safety of our plush seats, we also crave a certain satisfaction from a story. In other words, we want resolution–for the story as a whole, and for each subplot.

(Slight spoiler coming up, but you’re not really going to watch this for the plot, are you?)

John Cusack’s family situation is wrapped up nicely at the end, and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton wrap each other up nicely as well. But why the hell didn’t the screenwriter take care of Oliver Platt? His character starts out clueless and ends up confused. His worldview is as flawed as the cracked California freeways onscreen, yet at the end he’s no better than he started. There’s no point in having a villain in your story if you don’t either kill him, punish him, or redeem him at the end.

Then there are the kids. Naturally, John Cusack’s kids are terrific, and the children of the bad guy are not. At the beginning of the movie, the bad guy’s kids are obviously going to grow up to be just like their dad–bad. But at the end, they are kind and giving, sharing their little dog with Cusack’s kids.

But why?

I didn’t see any turning point that changed them. I know harrowing experiences can be enlightening, but you can’t have a character’s personality do a 360 degree turn without showing some inciting incident.

For the most part, none of these problems really matter. Most of us aren’t really looking for spiritual and emotional enlightenment from disaster movies. We’re looking for spectacle, and 2012 definitely delivers on that score. But when the character arcs launched off into space, wandered aimlessly for a while, and then fizzled, I was just ticked.