Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Colton Haynes, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Todd Williams, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language and Intense Sequences)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://sanandreasmovie.com
Opening Day: 28 May 2015
Synopsis: After the infamous San Andreas Fault finally gives, triggering a magnitude 9 earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter. But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning. And when they think the worst may be over… it’s just getting started.
‘2012’ marked a pinnacle of sorts for the natural disaster movie sub-genre, containing in a single picture earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis occurring across various cities at the same time. That probably explains why there hasn’t been a big-budget studio movie to that effect since then till now, and also why this latest in a while feels the constant need to up the ante. Indeed, ‘San Andreas’ wears its ambition of being the biggest earthquake movie to date on its sleeve, but unless you haven’t gotten your fix of such VFX-enhanced natural catastrophes, you probably will be left nonplussed.
For the geographically challenged, the title refers to the nearly 800-mile fault line that runs through California. As seismologist Lawrence Hayes (a very grave-looking Paul Giamatti) intones at the beginning, it has been predicted that a big one will happen every 150 years, and we are already almost 100 years into the current interval. And so, as far as the science goes in this movie, a magnitude-7.1 along a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam will trigger a “seismic swarm” along the titular San Andreas fault, precipitating a magnitude-9.1 in Southern California and another even more powerful magnitude-9.6 further up north in San Francisco (for context, the 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the current world record holder).
Amidst the toppling buildings, the human tale that emerges is one of a LAFD helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) who flies into downtown Los Angeles to rescue his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and then, together with Emma, into the heart of San Francisco to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Instead of a multi-character narrative, veteran TV writer Carlton Cuse’s screenplay focuses pretty much on Ray’s solo rescue mission, albeit with some tangential cutaways to see Emma’s cowardly boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) get his comeuppance for abandoning Blake earlier on in an underground carpark. Fortunately for Emma, a dashing Brit geek named Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) whom she just meets steps up to free her, and with the latter’s younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), the trio travel together to find higher ground to rendezvous with her parents.
It’s a clichéd setup no doubt, and the denouement is to be expected, but Ray’s race-against-time to get to his daughter turns out surprisingly affecting. Instead of establishing every little detail upfront, Cuse’s script keeps us wondering just what led to Ray’s estrangement from his family, which leads to a poignant moment between Ray and Emma at the halfway mark. And instead of reprising another macho action hero role, Dwayne Johnson stays admirably grounded in the role of a father who is driven by equal parts love and grief to make sure that his child is safe. It is probably Johnson’s most nuanced performance, and he gets reliable support from Gugino in their third on-screen collaboration to date.
Leaving Johnson to do the emotional heavy-lifting, Brad Peyton instead concentrates on choreographing the mayhem around him. No stranger to VFX-heavy setpieces, Peyton tops his previous work in ‘Cats and Dogs 2’ and ‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’ with some truly jaw-dropping visual spectacle. From the fracturing of the Hoover Dam just ten minutes into the film, Peyton moves on to design the destruction of the entire Los Angeles skyline before moving on to extend the same devastation to the whole San Francisco Bay Area. It is one thing to see skyscrapers like the US Bank Tower and the Citigroup Centre falling and quite another to witness a giant tsunami send a container tanker smack into the Golden Gate Bridge, and let’s just say this is probably as real as it gets next to it happening for real.
Whether it was intended at the start, the choice to cast Ray as a helicopter pilot turns out to be quite the inspired one. With generous help from his cinematographer Steve Yedlin, Peyton toggles between three different perspectives from which to let his audience appreciate the scale of the disaster. There is Emma’s point-of-view from someone on the ground, Ray’s point-of-view from in between the toppling buildings as he tries to retrieve Emma from mid-air, and finally an even more birds-eye point-of-view of the whole earth shaking, buckling, broken, on fire, and inundated with water. The combination of these distinct points-of-view should keep audiences looking for spectacle thoroughly engaged, especially those who can’t quite care more about the unfolding human drama.
And yet, even though it does follow disaster-movie formula to a fault (pun intended), there is no shaking off that feeling of ‘been there done that’. Yes, like we said at the start, there isn’t much more any filmmaker can do to top the Armageddon wrought by Roland Emmerich in ‘2012’, and to be sure, Peyton doesn’t do that. That said, if you’re looking for an earnest reminder just how unpredictable and cataclysmic Mother Nature can be, then you’ll find no fault with ‘San Andreas’. It doesn’t get too sappy or too melodramatic, and even contains some useful PSA tips on just what to do if and when you’re caught in one. It’s a Rock-solid disaster movie, we’ll give you that.
(If you're in need for a disaster-movie fix, 'San Andreas' is a Rock-solid bet)
Review by Gabriel Chong