Good end-of-the-world hokum
DIRECTED BY Roland Emmerich
STARRING Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, lan Holm
Opened May 28, Cert, 12A, 120 mins
A throwback to the disaster movies of the ’70s, this is cinema as pure spectacle, with cities destroyed, continents smothered in snow, and much in the way of self-sacrifice, square-jawed heroics and the indomitability of the human spirit. It’s the kind of movie popcorn was invented for.
Quaid is Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist who believes the world is at risk from cataclysmic climate change. Only no one’s listening?least of all America’s Vice President. “My 17-year-old kid knows more about science than he does,” growls Hall. They’re still not listening when research buoys in the North Atlantic start recording unprecedented temperature drops, nor when hail the size of golf balls hits Tokyo. It takes nothing less than the destruction of downtown LA by tornadoes before anyone starts paying attention.
Hall gets to spend the next 40 minutes or so watching the world kicked violently into a third Ice Age. Meanwhile, his son Sam (Gyllenhaal) is in New York on a school trip, trapped in a public library with a handful of survivors after a giant tsunami drowns Manhattan. “I will come for you, you understand?” bellows dad.
The movie is split into two halves. Act 1 sees traumatic climate upheaval leave the northern hemisphere uninhabitable, with Emmerich taking the carnage wrought in Independence Day to the next level.
Act 2 follows the impact of events on a handful of key survivors as they contend with plummeting temperatures, marauding wolves and Russian oil tankers cruising down Fifth Avenue, while also wrestling with Big Questions regarding the future of mankind?like, which books do they burn to keep warm? A Gutenberg Bible or the works of Nietzsche? Emmerich pulls off this shift in perspective smoothly, replacing the effects-driven apocalypse with human tragedies that sustain the tension long after the initial spectacle is over. His script, though, is clunky as Hell, and his characters painted in the broadest of strokes. It’s only strong performances from Quaid (driven) and Gyllenhaal (plucky) that keeps you from swallowing your tongue during the more leaden exchanges.
Ignore, too, the risible flag-waving hogwash at the end and enjoy a superior piece of multiplex nonsense.