Brad Peyton’s San Andreas casts Dwayne Johnson as a rescue helicopter pilot caught in a devastating earthquake as he works to rescue his daughter.
We’ve all seen these types of films before. Large scale disaster movies with imagery bordering on the apocalyptic are almost a dime a dozen these days and their quality tends to vary but one thing remains mostly constant through them all. They aren’t really meant to be take too seriously despite the destructive imagery.
It’s a formula that Roland Emmerich made famous with films such as The Day After Tomorrow or 2012. Make no mistake, these films are not high art but I doubt that they’re really supposed to be. They appear to be designed to spend some time watching things fall apart and follow a cast of characters who just try to survive it without letting the whole thing get as dark as the real life situation would be.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Emmerich directed this just to look at it as it has all the hallmarks of his style. There’s a large and separated cast, widespread destruction that includes famous landmarks and a generally light hearted tone with enough of a sense of jeapordy to keep things watchable.
The tone is set nicely by the opening scene that shows a car plummeting down a chasm like a slinky travels down a flight of stairs. It honestly has to be seen to be believed. It looks so completely ridiculous but it sets the audience up for the rest of the film nicely. From there we get an introduction to Dwayne Johnson’s Ray Gaines -surely that surname is no accident- and an intrepid crew of helicopter rescuers that are never really seen again after this scene and the film moves along at a decent pace from then on.
Dwayne Johnson is his usual charming and charismatic self as Ray but doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of his performance. Most of the characters I’ve seen him play are a lot like this but that’s not really a bad thing. A lot of the appeal of this film is knowing exactly what to expect and have it deliver. The important thing is that Johnson is engaging throughout and helps drive the fairly thin plot forward.
Much of the story is pretty standard fare. In all the chaos Ray and his estranged ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) are separated from their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and the characters spend the bulk of the narrative trying to guess where they should all flock to in order to have a tearful reunion. This works fine with constant peril being thrown at the characters as the disaster gets progressively worse for everyone concerned. Luckily Blake is one of those teenage daughters who listened to her father and learned everything she could about survival so she is armed with some serious skills and Ray has steely determination as part of his arsenal.
As you might imagine the set pieces are appropriately silly while being incredibly entertaining. The whole film laughs in the face of realistic physics but it’s all in service of delivering on the suspense. All the common clichés are here from near misses, fake outs and pure coincidence helping our characters survive impossible situations. Once you see a problem arise chances are you’ll be able to predict the resolution if you’ve seen films like this before.
The film looks great with some really impressive scenes of destruction. Some of the CGI looks a bit ropey and the aforementioned lack of consideration of real world physics makes the whole thing seem a bit iffy but if you’re able to get lost in the chaos and let it all wash over you then it shouldn’t cause too many problems. It’s certainly not a thinking man’s film but there’s nothing wrong with that when it is this entertaining.
You can’t have a film like this without some kind of doomsaying scientist and Paul Giamatti’s Lawrence fills that role nicely. It’s his job to warn everyone how screwed they all are just before his predictions come true and he spends most of the film delivering some exposition that largely only he and a few others can hear. He’s basically around to tell the audience what’s going on but to be honest, it’s pretty clear without him. I think his character could have been removed entirely and nothing really have changed.
Hugo Johnstone-Burt’s Ben and Art Parkinson’s Ollie serve as the hangers on to Blake’s part of the story and do a capable job despite being bereft of any real character. Ben is your standard love interest but it comes into play so late in the film that it makes very little difference and Ollie serves as the child who can be in peril but never actually die. Again, there are no surprises here.
Ioan Gruffudd is the rich soon to be step-dad of Blake who decides to abandon her when she needs him the most in the middle of a crisis. I was actually a little surprised here as the film went some way towards establishing him as a nice guy who doesn’t threaten the perfect relationship between Ray and Blake. In a lot of ways he’s probably the one who reacts the most realistically to this situation when it comes to selfish survival instinct.
The script is a bit heavy handed on the emotional speeches. Ray and Emma split up because of a tragedy in their past and this event naturally pushes them back together and forces them to confront these issues. The dialogue is really hammy in these intense deep feelings speeches but it’s delivered with enough authenticity to make it work and never sticks around too long. One thing this film never does is leave you waiting around too long for the next tremor to hit.
As a side note it’s amusing that the film is called San Andreas as this is also the name of a Grand Theft Auto game. Ray is forced to steal a vast array of vehicles and do some crazy stunts to get back to his daughter so I found it funny that the film has a -probably- unintentional connection to Grand Theft Auto in that respect.
A hugely entertaining movie but very standard in its execution. If you’re at all familiar with disaster movies then this doesn’t do anything to reinvent them. Everything about it is pretty much as you’d expect so if this is something you enjoy then you’ve have a blast here.
Dwayne Johnson is a great lead with a lot of charm and charisma to carry the audience through the movie. Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario do a capable job of backing him up as his estranged family. The rest of the cast are a bit hit and miss but nothing really offends about any of it.
The pacing is fine and the set pieces are hugely entertaining as well as looking great. Some of the CGI is a bit dodgy and the complete disregard for realistic physics is laughable at times but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.
If you’re in the mood for a really dumb yet entertaining disaster movie with a charismatic lead then you could do a lot worse here. I was really entertained and would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t want anything too thought provoking.