Review: San Andreas

  • Movie Review
  • Saturday, 30 May 2015

A tsunami in San Francisco? According to San Andreas, it could happen.

In the disaster flick San Andreas, dams burst, highways and bridges collapse, highrises crumble and topple, and yes, a tsunami strikes.

Familiar sights at the movies in the past decade, with CGI allowing today’s filmmakers to realise destruction on a scale undreamed of before.

We have seen it all, from acclaimed dramas (The Impossible) to disaster flicks (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) to just plain disasters (Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Man Of Steel). But there’s a rock-solid presence here that those last four movies didn’t have: Dwayne Johnson as Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles rescue team leader who lost one of his two daughters in a rafting accident some time before the events of the film.

When massive earthquakes occur along the length of the San Andreas Fault in California, and his surviving daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is trapped in San Francisco, he declares that he is not going to lose her as well.And so, you can bet that Ray – along with estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) – will go through hell and high water to make good on that promise.

San Andreas
A tsunami in San Francisco? According to San Andreas, it could happen.

In the way of all disaster films, their journey is filled with peril, obstacles and unlikely coincidences. There is also a good deal of suspense as bad things happen all around Ray and Emma, and also Blake and her newfound survival buddies, visiting Britishers Ben (Hugo Johnston-Burt) and kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).

Over on the scientific side, we have seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) looking rumpled but earnest while issuing grave warnings to about just how bad the quakes are going to be. Stumbling around in the chaos is Emma’s super-rich boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) who, when push comes to shove, would gladly throw someone in harm’s way if it ensures his own survival.

That’s it, mostly. Not too large a cast of characters, unlike those Irwin Allen (and others inspired by him) disaster classics of the 1970s. Back then, we would have an all-star cast, each one getting something like 10 minutes of total screen time to (a) tell a stranger their life story or philosophy, before (b) surviving or dying in a manner appropriate to (a).

‘Hey, look – over there I think I see Leo and Kate’
‘Hey, look – over there! I think I see Leo and Kate!'

There’s a lot to be said for that approach. It gives you a reasonable and entertaining sampling of the many ways people cope in dire situations. By focusing on Ray and his family’s struggles, the film gains an emotional centre with a firm footing.

Yet, something has to give – and that something is believability.

Yep, San Andreas is one of those flicks where you’re not supposed to suspend disbelief so much as lynch it from the tallest tree you can find. There’s always a convenient way out, a hair’s-breadth escape, an alternative mode of transport (boat, plane or truck) lying around when one fails.

This luck o’ the Gaineses seems to run out at the most critical moment, but then it’s just a moment for Johnson to emote some more and show that he has the acting chops to go with his screen presence. Hey, you don’t get to be the most electrifying man in sports entertainment with anything less.

Another thing the movie has going for it is that Blake, Ben and Ollie at least aren’t your typical helpless victims waiting for rescue, but are proactive. I liked that Blake is not portrayed as helpless at all, quite the opposite; Ollie is smart-alecky without being a whiny brat (a lot better than Rickon Stark anyway); and a sweet, goofy romance develops between Blake and Ben.

All told, San Andreas has better characters and more heart than you can find in a typical disaster flick. More importantly, in light of the recent tragedy in Nepal, San Andreas (which was completed before the disaster) does not trivialise or sensationalise its subject matter.

It actually harps on the issue of being prepared, seeing how the United States – its main target market, after all – sits on a significant number of earthquake zones.

The film even shows two conflicting schools of quake survival in use – the traditional “drop, cover and hold on” approach and the much-criticised, more recent “Triangle of Life” (Google it) theory.

But not favouring one over the other. Rather, it seems to tell us that in the middle of such cataclysmic forces, survival often comes down to blind luck.

But its sights – spectacular as they are and some, done better than in the past (we’ve come a long way from the dam-busting of Superman: The Movie and Force 10 From Navarone) – are all quite familiar by now. And that unfurling flag at the end kind of laid it on a bit thick, maybe.

San Andreas

Director: Brad Peyton

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Paul Giamatti, Archie Panjabi, Will Yun Lee

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Review: San Andreas


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