Before I get into things I want to say right off the bat, San Andreas is a great film. Now it’s not a great film in the same way Mad Max: Fury Road from a few weeks back was a great film, but it wouldn’t be fair to view the two with the same mindset. This is mainly because San Andreas is a big, cheesy and downright silly disaster movie and it never tries to be anything other than that. There’s nothing worse than a stupid film that takes itself too seriously, and it’s a problem which crippled films such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Cowboys and Aliens in recent years.
Fortunately San Andreas recognises its absurdity and drives head-on into it. The silly one-liners, the wildly over-the-top action sequences, the absurd plot devices – it has all the makings of a disaster itself. But it pairs all this with a strong cast, spectacular special effects and plenty of absorbing and satisfying action sequences to ensure that although the film will never be considering smart, it is almost guaranteed to entertain. Basically it’s a film that’s very well made, but the film makers keep themselves in on the joke and make it difficult to not get caught up in the fun.
Dwayne Johnson plays Ray, a helicopter rescue pilot with over 600 rescues under his belt. When an increase in tectonic activity along the San Andreas Fault leads to a series of Earth-shattering earthquakes, each more devastating than the one before, Ray must make the dangerous journey across the state to save his wife and daughter from what remains of California.
Unlike many films of its kind it doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at 114 minutes. When Paul Giamatti, starring as the scientist who predicts it all which has become a mainstay in disaster films of this ilk, warns of a second impending earthquake even bigger than the first you wonder what’s really left to destroy. I feared the film had run out of ideas, but gladly it speeds past that and moves onto a very fun tsunami sequence which offers a welcome change of pace and a truckload more destruction.
There are moments where the film takes a few missteps, particularly when exploring the family’s tragic past. While initially simply alluded to, we soon delve deeper and this creates some unnecessary and clunky moments, the worst of which arrives with a ridiculous flashback sequence. Even if it all this worked you can’t help but feel that being smack bang in the middle of the complete and utter demolition of an entire state isn’t the best time and place to start dealing with your personal issues.
On the whole the key cast is wisely kept small. Dwayne Johnson, the one-man franchise saving machine and box office heavyweight, brings his trademark charisma and physicality to the lead role and again proves himself to be an ever-solid action hero. Carla Gugino plays his soon-to-be ex-wife and she spends much of her time gazing doe-eyed at Johnson, but thankfully does enough around these moments to give her character a bit of depth.
Alexandra Daddario also stands out, and at times threatens to take the limelight away from Johnson. She handles the more emotional moments of the film better than any of her co-stars, and also does a fine job with the more physically demanding set pieces. She shares much of her screen-time with Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson, Australian and Irish respectively, who play British brothers travelling with her character. They do a decent job but their performances struggle to break through their painfully poor accents. Finally, Giamatti is as solid as you would expect from an actor of his quality, but isn’t given the opportunity to really impose himself on the film and remains very much on the backfoot of the action, showing up every now and then as a precursor to further destruction.
Ultimately if you know what you’re getting into, then San Andreas will be one of the more entertaining trips to the cinema you’ll have in 2015. The cheesy plot and dialogue are good for a laugh, and the action is well crafted and visually spectacular. Cities being torn to shreds, scientists predicting problems with equipment that may never exist and death tolls potentially in the tens of millions; this is pure disaster porn in the vain of 2012 and Independence Day, a film Roland Emmerich would no doubt be proud to call his own. It’s the very definition of popcorn cinema and a very welcome addition to what is shaping up to be a massive summer for blockbusters.
Your level of enjoyment will be predicated on your attitude going in, but if you’re looking for a brainless action film to keep you enthralled for a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse.