The disaster movie is the hallmark mainstay of the summer blockbuster. From its high point in the late 1990s with hits such as Independence Day (1996) and Armageddon (1998), nothing has traditionally drawn crowds more than the sight of familiar vistas being reduced to rubble. World events and the rise of superhero movies have meant they are less common these days, but one new entry in the genre is San Andreas (2015). Popular action star Dwayne Johnson takes the lead as Ray, a helicopter rescue pilot desperately trying to save his daughter (Alexandra Daddario), caught on the streets of San Francisco as it is ravaged by the worst earthquake in history.
For the majority of the film we follow three storylines. The first is Paul Giamatti’s stricken scientist, overseeing the chaos from his university lab and serving as the chief source of exposition, delivering a foreboding “may God be with you” during an emergency broadcast. The second is Daddario on the crumbling San Francisco streets, both damsel in distress and one woman survival mission as she uses a surprisingly vast knowledge of disaster situations to get to safety. Finally, in the air we follow Johnson, highlighted as the hero from minutes into the film. A man mountain with a million dollar smile, Johnson’s first line is a humble “just doing my job, ma’am” to a reporter heralding his record.
Taking an earnest approach makes him a likeable lead, throwing himself head first into the few emotional moments. Performances are of course second to spectacle in this type of film, and director Brad Peyton – Journey 2: Mysterious Island (2012) – delivers handsomely in this respect. It’s hard not to gasp as the Hoover Dam breaks, or as Johnson near-misses several collapsing buildings. In this respect it harks back to the disaster films of the mid-to-late nineties, with the type of carnage Roland Emmerich would be proud of. Once the gasps stop, however, it becomes clear that every element of the story is as hackneyed as it gets. There are more than a few lines that with illicit a cringe (Johnson parachutes into a baseball stadium before quipping “it’s been a while since I got you to second base” to on screen wife Carla Gugino); while the logic leaps range from the minor (why is our hero not saving anyone but his family?) to the unforgivable (‘riding over’ a tsunami, a very fortunate encounter with an old couple on the highway). San Andreas’ whirlwind of action and devotion to the disaster movie playbook will satisfy those looking for a loud, effects-filled ride. Those inspecting it any closer will find a cookie cutter studio blockbuster which stretches disbelief to its limits.
James Luxford | @JLFilm
With the amount of destruction done in San Andreas it is hard to believe that any citizen or San Francisco DUI attorney could have survived the ordeal. Driving out of San Francisco is impossible and the remaining survivors attempt to reach high ground above the city by foot. The debris ridden streets eventually fill with water making boats the only option for escape.