When did Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson become a bankable movie star? A college football player who never made it in the NFL, Johnson was a professional wrestler before he started showing up in movies like 2001’s The Mummy Returns. He’d later carve out a niche as a leading man of family movies like Race to Witch Mountain and The Tooth Fairy, but it wasn’t until 2011’s Fast Five (and that movie’s $209 million box-office gross in North America) that Johnson set his place as an action-movie hero who could draw major crowds.
Since then, Johnson has continued to be featured in family movies like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (directed by San Andreas 2015 helmer Brad Peyton) while adding to his action-hero collection with G.I. Joe: Retaliation and the sixth and seventh Fast entries.
San Andreas 2015 movie has something for fans of both of Johnson’s staple genres. It’s a family-centered tale at the center of an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. While the blend proves awkward and downright idiotic at times, it also provides exactly what audiences will be expecting: sequences of immense destruction wrapped around a family-friendly message that boils down to the aphorism cliché, “The family that quakes together stays together.”
San Andreas 2015 is a throwback to the disaster films of the 1970s—almost all spectacle, with minor exposition or back story to get in the way of what people have paid to watch: CGI-driven shots of a chains of massive earthquakes across the San Andreas Fault in the Western United States.
Between the madness found rescue worker Ray (Johnson), his estranged spouse, Emma (Carla Gugino, Watchmen), and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario, the Percy Jackson series). While Ray races around San Francisco in multiple rescue vehicles trying to seek Emma, Blake encounters a potential romantic counterpart in Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt).
The script, written by Carlton Cuse (TV’s Lost and Bates Motel), lays out the characters and oncoming disaster in the film’s opening minutes, using a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti (Saving Mr. Banks) to spell out the consequences of impending disaster. The catastrophic event kicks off with the dramatic crumbling of the Hoover Dam, and is shortly followed by quakes closer to San Francisco.
The screenplay by Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Bates Motel) is perhaps the biggest disappointment, only because it seems like such a clunker coming from an accomplished writer. San Andreas film ’s extreme succinctness when it comes to dialogue is remarkable, even for a dumb action flick: “Let’s go get our daughter.” “I’m gonna get you out.” “People need to know that the shaking is not over.” And yet, somehow, the whole thing is kind of a blast.
San Andreas 2015 movie takes a sanitized approach to the theoretical greatest mass disaster in American history—there are no shots of bodies floating in the water, or even so much as a lone kitten stranded in a tree. There’s neither ethical complexity, nor nuanced storytelling, and very few surprises. When Ray realizes Blake is stranded in San Francisco, he deprives earthquake-leveled Los Angeles of one of its few rescue helicopters with nary a thought of moment. He’s a man on a mission to save his daughter, and God help the walls or steel gables or 100-feet tsunamis that get in his way.
As Ray, Johnson is immensely committed to his hero’s adventure while making the case that he’s as sedate and dependable a national treasure as Mount Rushmore. Gugino and Daddario are relentless, if unexceptional, but San Andreas 2015 movie shows more charm in two brothers with excellent British accents: Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a wannabe architect and a crush for Blake, and Ollie (Art Parkinson), his younger sibling, who brings much-needed comic relief. But the primary thrill of the movie, indubitably, is watching various terrifying acts of nature pit themselves against a 6 foot 5, 260-lb leviathan of a human being and then promptly wither in their unworthiness.
The side thrills are in director Brad Peyton’s mesmerizing scenes of live-action ruin porn. Spoiler: It all falls down. But in 3-D, seeing the Hoover Dam crumble into obsolescence, the Golden Gate Bridge shatter, and downtown Los Angeles topple to the ground like a particularly unwieldy Jenga tower is eminently satisfying. Knowing that The Rock is going to do his best to add to the continuous chaos and destruction—when was the last time you broke a car door off to free a girl while dangling from a helicopter in a narrow precipice, after all?—is just the cherry on top.
The destructive scale in these sequences is beyond comprehension, but not so much that the audience doesn’t have time to find out how few people—as opposed to buildings and other structures—we witness perish during the earthquakes. The filmmakers clearly had an interest in preserving a PG-13 rating, although the lack of visible human death in these scenes merely reminds viewers of the absurdity of this mindless popcorn flick. Shouldn’t it come with a little more solemnity amid the gee-whiz! special effects?
If the moviemakers had their way, you’d have no time to wonder such questions. The action starts early in San Andreas 2015 movie, and the earth-shaking effects are designed to leave you so caught up in what’s happening that you don’t have to time to catch your breath before the next calamity. Giamatti does what he can to raise the story’s human stakes, screaming most of his dialogue (“Everybody get off the dam!”) during the early earthquake scenes.
Much more muted is the strained interaction between Ray and Emma on the subject of a daughter who died earlier in their marriage. Although the loss of a child is, for certain, a painful idea for any couple to discuss, the subject’s insertion here seems like the cheapest of ways to gin up sympathy for a film that otherwise feels close to reckless in its regard for human lives lost during the quakes. The adding of a traumatic back story is also merely awkward, in the same way that Sandra Bullock’s talk about her daughter was in Gravity—a much better film than San Andreas 2015 movie, but one that also had trouble mixing a human-interest angle with its singular visual experience.
Putting aside the simplicity of the set-up and characters, the huge oversight in San Andreas 2015 full movie is its almost complete lack of religion and faith in the face of cataclysm. With the exception of a solemn “God be with you” and “Thank God,” the film treats God as an expletive. Instead, the characters’ hope is in an earthly father figure who almost has superhuman ability. Ray barely breaks a sweat while executing rescue missions that, in the real world, would have a minimal chance of success.
Of course, realism and religious indications aren’t what San Andreas 2015 is trying to sell. It’s an action-hero movie dressed up as a family-values film in which previously unthinkable destruction is a means to bring a husband and wife back together and to restore a broken family. That element of the narrative yields a neat wrap-up to a stunning special-effects showcase, but don’t be surprised if the film’s effectiveness in conveying what it promises leaves you feeling a little queasy. If San Andreas 2015 movie succeeds at the box office, how much more destruction awaits us in the copycat films that are sure to follow? The simple prospect is enough to leave us quaking on the inside.