Film Review: San Andreas

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Listen to me. If you are even a little interested in disaster movies or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, go to the biggest and more importantly loudest theatre you can find and SEE SAN ANDREAS. NOW!

Let’s start with the basics. Like every recent disaster movie (for whatever reason) San Andreas centers on an estranged father attempting to reunite his family in the middle of an incredible weather event. In San Andreas’ case, the event is a monstrous series of earthquakes occurring along the San Andreas Fault and not as I’m sure many of us had assumed the fictional city that was the setting for a Grand Theft Auto game.

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Dwayne Johnson (who for the rest of the article will, out of respect, be referred to as ‘The Rock’) plays Ray, a search and rescue helicopter pilot whose family is in a period of separation. Ray’s daughter Blake, (Alexandra Daddario) is on her way to college. Blake’s mother and Ray’s former wife Emma, (Carla Gugino) is moving in with her new boyfriend, wealthy developer and nice guy who is so nice that you don’t really buy it, Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Ray has to deal with the fact that his family has moved on with their lives and no longer needs him…that is unless of course there is a chain of earthquakes so large that it levels every landmark west of Las Vegas.

Let me start with my single issue with this movie so I can get it out of the way and we go to the lovefest. I really can’t explain why we spent any time with Paul Giamatti. You’ll notice he was absent from the previous paragraph explaining what our main characters were up to as San Andreas begins. That is because Paul Giamatti plays Lawrence, a Cal Tech researcher who specializes in earthquake study. I will say, he is involved in a pretty excellent scene starring the Hoover Dam and gravity, but beyond that early moment, I never quite felt like he belonged. The movie isn’t too long, clocking in just under two hours, but you could have easily cut twenty minutes out and just focused on characters connected to Ray. That or possibly had Lawrence establish a relationship with Ray or some member of the team so that his moments mattered. It wasn’t that they were bad. He was very good and I was pretty interested in what he had to say but contrary to popular belief, I did not come to San Andreas to learn about earthquake science. I came to see it. And boy do we.

San Andreas has everything. It is hard to explain it without seeing it for yourself, which is why I highly recommend it but if you still need convincing, that’s fine. Let’s start with the most important part of the film. In an interview George Clooney once said that he took all of the credit for The Perfect Storm that he could (mostly because of the recent failure that was Bat-nipples) even though he knew everyone was really there to see the big wave. While San Andreas clearly stars a big earthquake do not discount The Rock. The man is on a Mcconaughey-esque hot streak. First, we have his appearance as Hobbes in the monster hit Furious 7. Then we have his starring role in the new HBO show Ballers to look forward to. Sandwiched right in the middle is this perfect starring vehicle. We get a ton of great action sequences. He carries no less than three people. With a not so charismatic or exciting leading man, San Andreas could have been a complete miss. The Rock brings the emotion when it is needed and a presence that does not once make you question some of the ridiculous things going on around him. He’s the best.

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And the things going on around him are ridiculous in the best way possible. Director Brad Peyton did an excellent job of organizing some of the most unbelievable action sequences I have ever seen. Heavily relying on longer takes and a mix of practical and computer generated effects made some parts of San Andreas feel incredibly real. The scene that begins with Emma having lunch stands out as the first moment where I was really blown away but there were plenty after that. Each set piece is crafted in a way that is really fun to watch but also does a great job of defining the stakes. Our heroes are not just people wandering around a disaster. We see those people and they get wrecked. No, our heroes are problem solvers and every scene in which they are in some sort of danger is well constructed and interesting. Points to any movie in which the “power of engineering” is used to save a character and everyone in the movie theatre is completely on board.

Our supporting cast was also great. Like I said before, Giamatti was very good, albeit unnecessary. Carla Gugino was also a very entertaining watch. She spends most of the movie screaming but she plays off The Rock beautifully and once she does start getting things done, it makes it all the more fun. I don’t understand how you put those two parents together to make Alexandra Daddario but I don’t care because she was my favorite.

Thank God that this movie did not begin with Blake stereotypically hating her father for not being there enough, or something like that. It easily could have and I’m sure it would have been a lot easier. Instead we were treated to an emotionally stable and surprisingly capable daughter in a divorced household, which is way too rare these days. (I get more than enough of it on Arrow and apparently Game of Thrones now.) I don’t need it here. Also kudos for putting Daddario in a bikini for no reason at the beginning of the film. It was completely unnecessary but I didn’t hear anyone in the theatre complaining. Blake’s companions also fit in nicely. Ben (played by the newcomer Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Oliver (Art Parkinson) did a good job of keeping everything real and more importantly keeping the action moving. And I cannot stress enough how great it is when Ben wields the “power of engineering.” So great.

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Let’s talk about thwomps.

A thwomp is that moment when a main character is running through a disaster and they are right next to another random extra and then THWOMP that extra is flattened by piece of falling concrete or something. A good example is that scene in Titanic where the ship is sinking and everyone is holding onto the bow of the ship as it raises into the air. One extra next to Rose lets go and THWOMP falls onto a table and dies. They serve to remind the audience that our main characters aren’t dead yet, but they could easily be next if not for the grace of god. A good disaster movie has a couple of them. A bad one has very few. San Andreas is filled to them brim with thwomps and they are excellent.

Here’s the thing. In two weeks will see the release of Jurassic World. It is likely to be a huge hit and possibly the biggest of the summer, and you can bet that it will fill up all those really loud theatres. I imagine this will be a worthwhile home release, but there is no way it can compare to the thearte experience so get down there in the next two weeks and see San Andreas. It exciting, fun, and it has The Rock. What more do you need?

San Andres Rating: 9/10

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Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome staff writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. He focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He loves U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. He can also occasionally be found writing lists on Topless Robot and his twitter handle is @NationofNando
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Matthew Nando Kelly is a cool and tough Senior Staff Writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he makes pop culture brackets with fellow writer DJ Chapman.