I’ve never been to Los Angeles or California at all. I’ve always wanted to go to San Diego or maybe San Francisco. I’ve seen how beautiful the beach and the cities are but I just don’t think the West Coast is right for me. One thing that always worried me about being California is the earthquakes they have to deal with, mainly one that could be caused by an active San Andreas Fault. This would be known as The Big One. What better idea to base a summer disaster film off on?
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Furious 7) stars as Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter-rescue pilot, who loves his job but has put a strain on his personal life while he is in the midst of a divorce from his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino, Watchmen). His daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), goes up to San Francisco with her mother’s new boyfriend for the weekend as she prepares for college. When the San Andreas Fault becomes active, causing devastation to the city, Gaines must journey through the havoc to save his daughter.
This seems to be a role that Johnson seems most comfortable in and born for. Coming out of the ensemble shadow of the last three Fast and Furious films and with his alpha male aura and invincibility, Dwayne Johnson showed that he could headline his own shock-and-awe, stunt-filled, action flick. He can save a girl trapped in a ravine or land a crashing helicopter with ease and a smile on his face and ready to get back to business. Like all disaster films, the main character has an unstable home life by facing divorce papers from his wife, a college-age daughter he dotes on, and dealing with past tragedy that only work seems to distract him from. Johnson completely embraces the hero role: a body carved out of stone but a haunted spirit.
During the film and Gaines running around, saving people, Cal Tech seismologist (Paul Giamatti) delivers the bad news and seems to be the “earthquake whisperer” and keeps busy during the movie, mapping subterranean activity that could threaten the West Coast. The first domino of the impending apocalypse fell in Nevada, destroying the Hoover Dam and taking the life of his research partner. With the data saved, he learns that this is just the beginning and a major quake is coming through California. The rest of the cast does a solid job but one person I looked at with interested was Alexandra Daddario. After her stint in the two Percy Jackson films, this was her first mainstream adult film. I watched her in HBO’s True Detective and was impressed with the depth she can bring to a character. While this is not her best work, I think the best is yet to come. Watch out for Daddario.
If you have seen one disaster film, you have seen them all. This film is no exception. It essentially boils down to an estranged couple putting their differences aside to save the one link that connects them: their child, who handles her own and has a small romance blossom during the destruction with some British tourists. What makes the film work is not its plot but its long stretches of ruin to the cities of California. Skyscrapers are falling like Jenga towers. The Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed by a Tsunami and a cruise ship falls into a populated area like a giant bathtub toy. This film has no shortage of excitement.
Even though I have an issue of the overuse of CGI flash used for action scenes and prefer the old-school practical effects, especially after Mad Max: Fury Road, sometimes it is easy to overlook your disdain when the effects are done correctly. Between some of the groan and quiet human moments of the film, which aren’t all bad because it pulls the story along for the hour and forty-eight minute length, San Andreas shows that good effects can help as well. While it’s not a great film, the fakery taps into an important fact: don’t underestimate the power of our planet.