San Andreas Review: Rockin' Action With A Shaky Foundation


The people of California just hit ROCK BOTTOM!

Eh? Eh? See what I did there?:) Bah, you get it.

...the movie stars The Rock, in case you didn't.

I haven’t seen a good disaster movie in a while, but San Andreas was one of the better attempts recently. It was an intense, visceral, movie that reminds us of our powerlessness against the fearsome forces of nature…unless you were The Rock, of course. In which case, you’d unsurprisingly be able to accomplish even the most ridiculously impossible things.

Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, stars as Ray, a search and rescue pilot/officer with a daughter and an ex-wife. After a magnitude 9 earthquake hits the cities along the San Andreas Fault, Ray must scour the ruined cities to rescue his family.


The movie follows two primary narratives – one focuses on Ray and his ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) searching for their little girl, and another with Blake (Alexandra Daddario), their clever, well-equipped, (not to mention gorgeous) daughter, and her two new friends, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson), as they try to stay alive in the midst of an incessantly quaking city.


That was pretty much it. Dad rescues family. The plot doesn’t evolve much from that basic make-up. There were some relationship material, about how Ray wasn’t able to rescue their other child and how it hurt his marriage, and a budding romance between Blake and Ben, but it never amounts to being more than background noise.

But the real star of this movie is the immense catastrophic event, the spectacle of the earthquake itself, strikingly envisioned by Director Brad Peyton. Obvious CGI notwithstanding, the cinematography, the action, the massive set pieces, the overzealous destruction, and the commitment from the actors all made for a big, thrilling, if not terrifying, time!


San Andreas’ geological thrills were RELENTLESS! There was so much energy behind its ambitious action sequences and there’s rarely ever a moment to take a breather before the next natural disaster hits! It’s exhausting! I think there were a couple or so sequences in there that I thoroughly enjoyed, including the building rescue at the start, and the underwater rescue in the end. The visual texture and the robust camerawork made this movie look like it’d be an awesome Realto ride!

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What really makes San Andreas stand out from previous apocalyptic movies is that it’s actually feasible. It’s not comet hurling towards the planet, or an alien invasion, or the earth imploding, it’s “just” a really strong earthquake. What with the recent one that devastated Nepal, and the local media ramping up the earthquake warning in Manila, it’s a movie that hits close to home. Watching buildings collapse, debris rain down from the skies, the Earth breaking apart, it kind of felt like a peek at a potential early future.

San Andreas, at times, acts as an infomercial on earthquakes. It tells you what to do and what not to do, gives you a few basic survival tips, and even shows you the kind of people you can expect in a crisis. (I appreciated all the science and engineering tips!) But at the same time, it gives an impression that there really is no way to be fully prepared for this level of catastrophe. It bluntly asserts that the only way you survive is through sheer luck (or in The Rock’s case, implausible movie coincidences).

It’s that lecture-like, detached vibe that keeps the movie’s tone from entering bleak, hyper-serious territory. As much death and destruction there was, it seldom felt personal. Everyone who died was basically cannon fodder, while all the main characters survive. There was no real sense of loss. The inter-character relationship drama, that was meant to provide emotional grounding, only ends up becoming the movie’s source of levity. It’s odd that in the midst of such an event, of worrying for your life or your daughter’s life, that they’d have time to talk about their feelings, and laugh and smile, and dish out cheesy dialogue (E.g. Ray’s “It’s been a while since I got you in second base.”)


Somehow the threat of the earthquake (and the seriousness of the movie itself) is lessened by how relatively unscathed the main characters are throughout. Ben was wounded, sure, but other than that, these guys survived helicopter crashes, giant tsunamis, crumbling buildings, etcetera, with flying colors! There was a bit too much coincidence and luck for us to feel the emotional distress that accompanies a tragedy like this.

Gorgeous Blake is still gorgeous after everything that happened.

The jarring CGI didn’t help either. The special effects were amazing, and the post-earthquake city was really beautifully visualized, but it’s clear that this movie was made to be viewed in 3D. In the regular 2D version, you can really see when they employ green screen and other computer generated magic. Just when you start feeling like you want to start crying or pee your pants, you notice the fakery and it completely that takes you out of the moment.

But good thing the actors sold it by their utter commitment to the bit. Kudos to The Rock as well, who has become such a well-rounded actor since his early career. I’m a huge Rock fan, ever since he was still in the WWE, but even I have to admit that he wasn’t a terribly good actor. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a more subdued performance from him, minimizing all the Rock-isms, and delivering a couple of pretty good dramatic moments. It’s not the best, but it’s still one of his better performances.

Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! - what I was chanting while he was making rescues.

San Andreas was an impressive and exhilarating (not to mention, timely) disaster flick and it’s hard to just dismiss it as pure fiction. But the palpable CGI, the odd family drama, the trappings of movie plot coincidences, and the “cleanliness” of its conclusion, keeps it from completely hitting its mark. It was extremely fun to watch, sure, but it was without any of the lingering emotional trauma that movies like The Impossible, Titanic, or Independence Day have. San Andreas will remind you how much an earthquake can destroy, but after the movie, and all is well and unhurt, you’ll likely just shake the movie off.

Shake it off. Get it? Heh. Puns. 

How do you even prepare for something like this?


*First seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles!

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