Starring Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti & Alexandra Daddario
Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is head of a local emergency rescue unit in the state of California. The San Andreas Fault has triggered the largest magnitude earthquake in recorded history, forcing sizeable chunks of Los Angeles and San Francisco to tumble like dominoes and, as the earth gives way, Ray immediately sets out to find his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). By ‘immediately’, I mean he seems to completely forget his job title and associated responsibilities, and essentially hijacks a helicopter.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) tries to alert the national media of the area’s impending doom and urges the respective populations to get out while they still can. The audience’s POV switches from The Rock, to Giamatti and over to Daddario, saved by (and vice versa) a handsome Brit engineer, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson), as the world splits apart from three different perspectives.
The characters are briefly introduced, before the audience plummets into a solid two hours of relentless explosions and noise and mayhem and christ-when-will-it-stop action. In fact, the plot may seem quite familiar, right down to the estranged wife and child in peril. Have you ever watched The Day After Tomorrow, 2012or most other natural disaster films? Then you’ve already seen this one.
The only thing that wasn’t a painful cliché were the momentary and very occasional attempts to provide more authentic contexts to characters, enabling a fusion of wide-scale calamity with intense, personal and down-to-earth relationships. Ray is a flawed man trying to save his own world and, while Johnson’s portrayal of emotion was puzzling (some may draw comparisons to squeezing water from a… Rock. Get it?), character focus is often lost in the mayhem of disaster films, and Peyton clearly wanted to address this. The standard “I’m just doing my job” and “it’s been a long time since I got you to second base” also featured. Yes, really.
What the film does do well, however, is update the catastrophe film genre with today’s 3D capabilities and cutting-edge technology, creating images so intensely realistic that you do, quite simply (believe me, it’s embarrassing to admit this), flinch when debris flies towards the screen. The cinematic stakes for the film were most certainly raised, effectively applying their newfound creative license to a very real and plausible threat.
Not since the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage was postponed for four months, following the attacks of 9/11, has a film been released at a more inappropriate time. Just weeks after the devastation of Nepal’s earthquakes, we see San Andreas portray mankind’s struggle with, as Johnson himself states, “the greatest foe known to man: Mother Nature.” With the numerous tragedies of this film in mind, and the film’s apparent sadness and desperation towards such awful and real devastation, I sincerely hope that all those involved in the creation of this film make an attempt to assist the relief efforts in Nepal. They, too, are human beings, and would have experienced tragic, unscripted stories over the past few weeks.
Overall, the constant pummelling of action scenes left very little in the way of contrasting moods; there’s only so much that amazing 3D can make up for. A deeper journey into the characters of the film, similar to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, would have really embraced human nature in a far more emotive and honest way, and certainly have gotten fewer giggles from a perplexed audience – it’s hard to work out, by the end, if some of the lines or outrageous storyline conveniences were thrown in for comedic value. That’s just not what we should be looking for from this genre.