Action, Alexandra Daddario, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Art Parkinson, Carla Gugino, CGI, Cinema, Comedy, Disaster, Dwayne Johnson, Earthquakes, Film, Helicopters, Hoover Dam, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ioan Gruffudd, Movie Review, Nob Hill, Paul Giamatti, Raymond Gaines, Rock Bottom, San Andreas, Sharknado, Skyscrapers, Sylvester Stallone, The Day After Tomorrow, The Impossible, The People's Champ, The People's Elbow, The Rock, Thriller, Twister, Wayward Pines, Wrestling, WWE, WWF
“San Andreas” is an awful film if you want to evaluate it based on its realism and its performances, but it’s still largely enjoyable despite its flaws. This is a popcorn flick that I would recommend to just about anyone wanting to turn off their brain and have a good time at the cinema, so on one hand I actually really liked it, but on the other I know that there are a lot of filmmakers out there trying to do inventive and ground-breaking things, so to praise this film for being fun is something I don’t want to do. It’s good, but it’s bad, as silly as that may sound.
This is a disaster movie about what would happen to the San Andreas area if a massive series of earthquakes were to hit its fault line. Around that premise we follow three story arcs:
1) A crazy journey across San Francisco involving helicopter-rescue pilot Raymond Gaines (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock) and his soon to be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino), as they attempt to find their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), amid the devastation caused by the earthquakes.
2) Blake’s efforts to get to high ground in order to survive and be seen by her father.
3) A disconnected story which occurs only for the sake of exposition, as seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) tries to warn as many people as possible that the devastation they are experiencing is ‘bad’, which they can see anyway if they open a window.
The film’s premise isn’t actually that terrible; there are plenty of ways to keep things interesting and add some substance to the film, because earthquakes are a major event and there are a lot of human stories that come out of such tragedies, but sadly “San Andreas” isn’t truly interested in those stories. There are moments in which the writers try to add some sort of character struggle to proceedings in order to elevate the film beyond its disaster movie foundations, such as when Gaines reminisces about how he couldn’t save his other daughter from drowning, but these scenes lack any real impact. The characters aren’t fully developed, so when the writers try to get the audience invested it feels forced and contrived, and any kind of redemptive arc for Gaines misses its mark.
This doesn’t ruin the movie completely for me, because it is what it is and it manages to be entertaining within its limited framework, but it does mean that the film ends up being a bit one-note towards the end. It’s basically a series of CGI action set-pieces with a dull family story thrown in, which we’ve seen many times before in better films like “The Day After Tomorrow”.
Where “San Andreas” succeeds is in its fun factor, because it’s a very endearing and engaging spectacle for the majority of its run time. It does a good job of topping itself throughout, which is admirable considering that the first major earthquake destroys the Hoover Dam. Still, much of the grandiose destruction, if not all of it, is done using CGI, which is far too obvious and distracted me greatly as I watched. I’m not a fan of computer generated special effects at the best of times, so the fact that they are so average here is a big issue for me. The worst offence in the entire movie occurred within the first couple of minutes, as a young woman innocently drove along a spiralling road only for the earth to cave in underneath her car – this resulted in said car toppling downwards like a slinky down the stairs, perfectly bouncing from front to back bumper, continuing in this fashion for about twenty seconds. It looked ridiculous and ugly, and set the film off to a really terrible start, because nothing about it looked real.
This film is utterly preposterous for long periods, and often I found myself bursting into fits of laughter as I revelled in how ludicrous and wacky the dialogue was. The stupidest parts of the film all involved Gaines’ journey in search of Blake, with one particular highlight being when he managed to traverse a tsunami by flooring it up the wave, but the worst offences in terms of dialogue belonged to Blake and her travel buddies, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson). I don’t know who decided to put the Nob Hill stuff in the script, but I’d like to thank them because it made me giggle like a school girl!
The performances are pretty woeful across the board, although I don’t think that the writers gave those involved much of an opportunity to excel. Dwayne Johnson was adequate in his role; he’s an action star and he plays it pretty well. I think he knows what he is and he does his best with what he’s got, and to his credit he would’ve fit in perfectly when Schwarzenegger and Stallone were in their prime.
I do have one genuine gripe to pick out of this movie, something that I thought was annoyingly idiotic rather than amusingly silly, and that’s the fact that Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) wasn’t established as a nasty human being prior to the earthquake, but once it hit he became the personification of evil. I understand that because he was trying to take over our protagonist’s role as head of the Gaines family we were supposed to dislike him, but the writers didn’t have to make him a murdering coward to achieve that. What they needed to do was develop Raymond and his relationship with his family more, because if we cared about him we would’ve come to hate Daniel anyway.
So, I’ve said that “San Andreas” was pretty damn terrible, but in a paradoxical turn of events I’ve also said that I enjoyed it. You might wonder then how I’m going to assess it – do I score it positively because I liked it? Or, do I score it critically based on its merit, in light of the fact that I’ve seen plenty of films that’ve been more ambitious, made by filmmakers who could’ve made this movie in their sleep? I think it’s clear that I’m going to do the latter, because I believe it would be a complete waste of time to review a film purely based on how much I liked it. I like a lot of things but that doesn’t mean that they’re worthy of praise.
What I’ve written should tell you that this movie is worth seeing if you can sit back and ignore its stupidity, but I hope that this review also reflects the quality of the film as a whole. “San Andreas” is a funny, dump, sometimes cringeworthy mess of a movie, with very little substance; it’s more like “Sharknado” than “The Impossible” and it isn’t going to win any awards – like a night of heavy drinking, watching this film will most likely kill your brain cells and leave you feeling very confused, but there’s still a chance that you’ll have a good time, so weigh up the pros and cons and see it at your own risk!