You’re going to learn a few things if you go see San Andreas, one of the summer’s biggest entries into the ever-dwindling “Non-Superhero, Non-Disney, Non-Remake/Sequel, Non-YA” category. Allow me to outline them for you, in no particular order.
You’ll learn that the core group of executives and writer-types that created this film are some damn patriotic people. In various roles, the creative team that drives this flick – which is about, as you may have guessed, how screwed the general population of the West Coast would be should the San Andreas fault line ever decide to go truly tectonic on their asses – are relatively unknown types, but you quickly get a sense that they are familiar with and draw heavy inspiration from classic disaster films like The Towering Inferno, Twister, and Independence Day. One of the core themes of these films, of course, was the essential facet of unity to overcome the adversity, and on screen in San Andreas, this topic plays out on both a smaller immediate-family and larger nationwide scale.
Indeed, during some of the film’s opening sequences – picturesque fly-over shots of The Hoover Dam and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, all pre-destruction – I was drawing instant mental parallels to Independence Day with the underlying vibe of “Gosh, isn’t America cool.” I’m certainly not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s a very intriguing contrast (as it was in ID4) when the writers and special effects guys spend the rest of the movie absolutely decimating famous landmarks, cities on the whole, and tons of human lives. And just in case viewers were blissfully unaware of the nationalism the creators had sprinkled throughout the film, the final scene will, quite frankly, leap off of the screen and punch you squarely in the face with it.
You’ll learn that The Rock can act – and not just be okay at it, either. I’ve never met the man, but Dwayne Johnson seems like a very likable guy, and I give him major credit for being, in my opinion, the most successful wrestler-turned-actor ever (you’re a close second, Andre the Giant – if only we could have gotten some Fezzik in a Princess Bride sequel!). He definitely gets to display the widest range of his skills that he’s ever had the opportunity to, thanks to the film’s attempt at constantly intermixing mega-action sequences with quieter moments of character-building and family values. It doesn’t hurt that his character, Ray, has a wife and child, and they are played by damn fine actresses as well (Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario as wife Emma and daughter Blake, respectively), so he’s got a golden opportunity to let his quality performance be enhanced by his quality co-stars. As charismatic as he is off-screen – a quick Google search will give you some results on his fun antics on the red carpet and as a good-natured prankster – he’s just as captivating in character as a father trying to rescue his daughter and cope with the emotional maze of a newly-estranged marriage. I’ll stop here before going full man-crush on you, but do know that Johnson’s performance is one of the highlights of the film.
As for another highlight of San Andreas: you’ll learn that destroying stuff has never seemed so realistic. I’m the first to admit that I’m not nearly as much of a “CGI Nazi” as some people I know, so I don’t go into a film like this looking to scrutinize it frame-by-frame to see where I can tell what’s a practical effect and what’s green-screen make-believe. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate a good practical effect as much as the next nerd who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but that type of action in a film like this just isn’t, pardon the pun, practical. The CGI action scenes are, to put it bluntly, F-ing magical and insanely awesome.
I’m not sure anyone keeps actual track of this kind of stuff (and if you do, then e-mail me IMMEDIATELY, because we have to talk), but San Andreas is clearly gunning for the record of “Most Things Demolished Over the Course of One Film.” Skyscrapers, interstates, landmarks, entire cities… if you can imagine it, odds are good the effects team on this film can (and did) destroy the crap out of it. We get earthquakes, explosions, demolitions, even a tsunami for good measure; the action starts early in this film and rarely lets up, so hold on for a thrill ride, for sure.
Finally, you’ll learn a little bit of bonus trivia knowledge directly from me: the writer of the film, Carlton Cuse, is best known to the average fan as being one of the writers/creators of the insanely popular and infuriating Lost television series… but did you know that one of his first major TV gigs came as a writer on The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.? If you know what that is, then 10 Bonus Cool Points to you! If you don’t know what that is, you need to hop on over to Amazon and grab yourself a box set of magical goodness, pronto.
So there you have it, really. San Andreas won’t be winning any awards… but I feel like you knew that already. You know what this movie is about: death and destruction on an eye-popping, God I hope this never really happens but if it does then it’s gonna look so bitchin’ type of level. I honestly am having a hard time deciding who’s the bigger “star” of the film, Dwayne Johnson or the special effects. And that’s okay. If films like this are what keeps The Rock from smellin’ what a Tooth Fairy sequel might be cooking, then give me a ticket and let me watch.