Director Brad Peyton
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario
Rescue helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is dealing with both an impeding divorce and his daughter (Alexandra Daddario) moving to college, when a series of intense earthquakes hits the West coast. As a brilliant seismologist (Paul Giamatti) struggles to get out news of an even more devastating quake bound for San Francisco, Ray heads there in an attempt to save his family. From here, lots of things fall over, burn or get washed away in a fairly gratuitous fashion. Just what you would expect from this sort of disaster film.
On a purely functional level San Andreas works by doing exactly what it says on the tin. It delivers everything you think it should, in an action packed way. The set sequences are relatively spectacular, with plenty of CGI mayhem thrown into the mix to keep your eyes boggling with an expression of disbelief. Buildings crumble, cities rock, physics flies out the window and hordes of anonymous people meet their fate in dramatic (yet strangely bloodless) ways. All while the Rock and his family persevere through determination and strength of character. The usual inspiring stuff and a moderately enjoyable popcorn flick that ticks the box it needs to.
If you pause to think about it for even a brief second, then San Andreas starts to be on morally shaky ground. This is a tale that prioritises the nuclear family above anything else. When he is needed most, Dwayne Johnson’s character abandons his post as a rescue worker, absconds with much needed equipment, and loots his way across the west coast to rescue his family. Now, that may be a valid and understandable call to make, but it is something this film doesn’t even pause for a second to contemplate or agonise over in any way. In fact it shows a willing blindness to this by celebrating Johnson turning the table on looters after he has crashed into a department store with a stolen helicopter. The one redeeming moment, where The Rock actually does his job and save a crowd of people from the quake, doesn’t even begin to balance the scales, as it is literally washed away five minutes later. It’s all strangely amoral, hidden under a veneer of family wholesomeness.
For all that, Johnson does a solid job as the family man unwilling to let anything stop him till he gets his family back safely. Sure, it is nothing The Rock hasn’t done before, but he is so effortlessly charming and committed to this that you can easily forget about the faults in his characterisation. Giamatti is probably slumming it here but gives it his all, fulfilling the role of a traditional scientific “Greek chorus” present in all good disaster films. His task is to lay the groundwork of the destruction that will soon appear on screen and give it some scientific plausibility.
A pure popcorn flick. It is everything you would expect from the trailer and nothing more.