Following a rare, surprise tremor in Nevada, the West Coast of America is put on alert when a scientist and lecturer (Paul Giamatti) realises that this is merely the beginning, and that a colossal earthquake is soon to hit California. However – and despite his best efforts to warn the public – he’s too late, and suddenly the state is in disarray as the world’s largest ever recorded earthquake strikes. As the death toll gets higher, a rescue pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) and his soon-to-be divorced wife Emma (Carla Gugino) are determined not to add another body to the ever increasingly list, and set off on a dangerous journey to San Francisco to save their only daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) – where she’s left fighting for survival alongside stranger Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).
There is a upsetting pertinence to this tale – but here’s a film that deviates away from sentimentality, and while we may crave more profundity, Peyton’s commitment to pure entertainment is unwavering, as a film that is unrelenting in its approach. However we do drift carelessly away from the core matter (the quake) in turn for a handful of contributing themes that are entirely superfluous in their inclusion. Such as the inevitable romance between Blake and Ben, or the whole sub-storyline concerning Ray and Emma’s divorce.
It detracts from what truly matters and cheapens the experience accordingly. Of course it’s imperative to humanise these characters and ensure they have an emotional core and allow the audience to invest in them, to further enhance the impact of their struggle to survive – but it feels too melodramatic and not in any way naturalistic. Plus, and while we need these protagonists to work as a catalyst into this situation, emblematic of the horrors the public are facing – we get so caught up in their lives that we lose sight of the monumental damage caused on society, and forget about how many others are suffering.
Nonetheless, the special effects are simply breathtaking – and the bird’s eye shots of the earthquake are haunting, as we watch on as the city crumbles. It makes for a noteworthy cinematic experience, as a film that demands a big screen viewing, which is probably the only screen big enough to fit in Johnson’s biceps too. Yet again, he’s the star of the show, proving himself to be such a dependable leading man. Considering he’s taking on nature, you still always believe he’ll come out on top, you put your faith into him, which is essential in a production of this ilk. To counteract his heroic, masculinity – comes a moving turn by Giamatti, as the actor proves that, no matter the scale of the feature at hand, he is able to be so intimate, and so vulnerable – and though given a somewhat limited amount of screen time, he remains the very best thing about this endeavour.
San Andreas is undoubtedly a fun way to spend your time – as yet another example of how engaging and entertaining disaster movies can be, as a sub-genre that rarely disappoints. Nonetheless, this just feels too staged and not spontaneous, and while overtly cinematic, more attention to realism certainly wouldn’t go a miss.