Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue
Director: Brad Peyton
Writer: Carlton Cuse
This is the kind of film I usually find difficult to review because I’m never sure what to say about them. I walked into San Andreas expecting to see a mildly entertaining blockbuster with decent visuals but very little in the way of characters and story and that is exactly what I got. I have little more to say about it beyond that because this film did very little for me. In all honesty I’ve barely even thought about it since watching it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I disliked it. I think that San Andreas is fine for what it is and will please any viewer looking for a simple summer blockbuster to entertain them for a couple of hours. I did watch the film in IMAX (the first such occasion for me) and certainly found the visuals to be impressive. However I didn’t really feel that the film was any sort of an experience for me in the way that a more dynamic and technically realised film such as Gravity might have been. All the same I have a review to write and a word count to meet so I’ll attempt to discuss this film in greater depth and provide more of an idea of what one can expect from it.
The film follows Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a helicopter-rescue pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department whose personal life is falling apart. His wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is leaving him, his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is about to head off for college, and he is haunted by his own guilt for a traumatising event in his past. Meanwhile the seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) makes a groundbreaking discovery in earthquake prediction only to discover that the San Andreas Fault is about to experience an earthquake of catastrophic proportions. When the earthquake hits Ray sets out to save his wife and daughter from the destruction while they attempt to stay alive long enough for him to reach them.
This film hits all of the usual notes commonly associated with disaster films. It contains so many of the tropes and clichés we’ve all come to expect from them that within 15 minutes I was completely convinced that I was watching a Roland Emmerich film (seriously, I was frantically scanning the credits trying to find his name). Like many of its predecessors San Andreas is rife with massive feats of earthly destruction while one-note main characters are able to survive by the virtue of being main characters. The film contains many examples of characters running for their lives while the ground literally crumbles right behind them, convenient coincidences and instances of pure luck that allow the main characters to survive and nameless, faceless people indiscriminately falling victim to the devastation of the earthquake in order to provide the film with a body count. Thus what this film provides should be thrilling and entertaining enough to satisfy its audience. The real problem is that of engagement and investment. The characters simply aren’t very interesting or relatable and rooting for them seems redundant since we already know that they’re going to survive.
The visuals in this film are stunning and anyone who enjoys mass destruction in their films will not be disappointed. It is over the top, like so many other films in this genre are, but is not excessively so nor does it strain the audience’s suspension of disbelief beyond reason in the way that I felt 2012 did. San Andreas knows what kind of film it wants to be and, for the most part, fulfils its purpose. Every now and then it attempts (and fails) to throw in some character development but is otherwise a safe, generic action film. The one aspect that I felt really stood out was Paul Giamatti who gave a very decent performance and was really able to sell the film’s Hollywood ‘science’. Of all the characters in the film his is the only one that I actually remember displaying a personality. Dwayne Johnson also does a good job of doing what he does best, being Dwayne Johnson.
There really isn’t much else to say about San Andreas. Anyone who walks into this film expecting to see anything more than a standard action film will be disappointed. This film aspires only to entertain and thrill its audience for a couple of hours, nothing more and nothing less. In that department it does well enough. Anyone willing to suspend their disbelief and not think too much while watching this film should find it sufficient. Applying logic or rational thought to this film could lead one to ask how many innocent people died as a result of Dwayne Johnson’s character abandoning his duties to save his family, a question that has no place in this film. This film is thrilling, mindless and safe and that’s just the way it likes it. I’ve given the film quite a low rating because it didn’t do very much for me, but this film will definitely have an audience and they should like it just fine.