At the Movies with Alan Gekko: San Andreas “2015”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Disaster/ Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti, Archie Panjabi, Will Yun Lee, Alec Utgoff, Marissa Neitling, Kylie Minogue/ Runtime: 114 minutes

I feel it is safe to start this review off by just coming right and being honest with you movie goers: the movie San Andreas really doesn’t cover any new territory. Oh sure it may unearth some new ground in its attempts to all but obliterate the city of San Francisco completely off every geographic map known to man, but rather its narrative is one that we have seen many a time before. By that I mean a calamity rears its ugly head, and a family-loving guy must now do everything possible to save those he loves and no more, no less. Indeed it is that poignant degree of intimacy which not only helps distinguish this film, but also helps make it more a pathos-driven film than might be expected. I mean make no mistake this film, in terms of scale, may not rival a film like say 2012, but it does make the formula better by balancing out both the potent destruction that unfolds as well as the relatable human story at the heart of everything. Indeed San Andreas may be quite remarkable in what it pulls off on the technical side of things, but it also has a quite emotional and relatable tale of just what it means to be family to anchor it….that and wonderful performances by a talented cast with their fearless leader through the chaos and destruction being a terrific lead performance by Dwayne Johnson.

The plot is as follows: The story of San Andreas begins as we witness a professor at that esteemed university known as Cal Tech to say nothing of his other occupation as a seismologist by the name of Lawrence Hayes and his team as they at long last manage to perfect the science of predicting when an earthquake is going to occur. Sadly it seems that they really need to work on their timing since the announcement of their scientific breakthrough also manages to line up perfectly with the earthquake Californians have always referred to, quite infamously, as “the big one”. Thus it isn’t long before Hoover Dam is horrifically annihilated, but it isn’t long before Hayes starts predicting that bigger and more horrific quakes are headed toward Los Angeles and San Francisco and the ensuing damage and destruction will be truly horrific (huh I wonder if he is going to be proven right….). Whilst all of this is going on we soon meet up with our main hero by the name of Ray Gaines as he sadly has to cut his time with his daughter Blake short when he is called in to help handle rescue duties in the aftermath of the quake at Hoover Dam. This therefore gives Blake the opportunity to go to San Francisco with her soon-to-be-stepdad Daniel while her mom Emma goes to meet Daniel’s sister Susan in Los Angeles. Of course it isn’t long before while Emma and Susan are deep in conversation regarding the ahem “finer aspects” of Emma and Daniel’s relationship that the restaurant they are dining in, to say nothing of all of Los Angeles, is surprise surprise decimated by a giant quake. Thankfully, and conventionally, Ray manages to show up and save his ex-wife just in time and thus our intrepid duo must turn their focus to getting to their daughter who has found herself engaged in her own battle to survive in a panicked and crazed San Francisco, but with a pair of new pals in the form of a charming young man named Ben and his younger brother Ollie by her side….

Now the key to a film like San Andreas working on the level that it ultimately does is a concept known as balance. Suffice it to say that by having this “balance” this film is elevated above quite a few others like it significantly. What I mean by balance is that somewhere between the incredible work in the special effects department, the riveting narrative, the actually terrific set of performances from a game cast, and just how entertaining the movie is, San Andreas manages not only to keep things going on all fronts, but it also manages to blend everything together in a wonderful sense of synchronicity from beginning to end. To that end, it should be noted that the visual effects work in this is truly fantastic. Indeed this movie really truly is a potent endorsement not only of just where digital work can take movies nowadays, but also to the skill and talent of the artist that makes it possible in the first place. Indeed this film’s whole manner of seamlessly showcasing their VFX scheme is so well done that this film has some of the finest digital effect work that I have seen in a while. Indeed they’re that magnificent, that believable, and truly that complete. Indeed these effects don’t just cover things such as buildings fall or walls of water. It also covers how every tiny speck of dust and every little piece of rubble or debris in the air is so complex yet realistic and detailed to say nothing of brilliantly aligned with all of the destruction going on. Suffice it to say then that this film is undeniably a top-notch example of what modern digital artists can achieve when given a terrific sandbox to play in. Yet as phenomenal and horrific as they can be, the effects work simply doesn’t have as much gravitas as it should if it doesn’t have anything significant to help support them.

Yet when one looks past the absolutely incredible work in the visual effects department, there is also a quite phenomenal narrative at play as well. Yes, in all fairness it is the typical “save the day” narrative in a lot of ways, but there is a surprising integrity to how simplistic it is as well as a wonderful degree of emotions on display that help keep this film rooted. Yes this film is not just chaos and destruction from beginning to end and that helps elevate the material wonderfully. Indeed this is one film where the chaos and destruction aid the film instead of defining it since the film chooses to let its main narrative about the power of family and coming together when disaster strikes no matter what be its driving force. It should also be noted that this film’s cast of characters are also quite well written even if they manage to be quite generic in terms of who they are as people and what the film has them do during their respective amounts of screen time. Yet even with that stumbling block in play, there is a surprising degree of both heart and chemistry on display as well as a honest feeling of unity that gets stronger through the characters being apart as well as slowly, but surely the potent pathos that feels genuine and that exists more than just a passing-by feeling of joy at being saved. Also, and just as crucially, this is a film that doesn’t possess an excessive amount of unnecessary comedic material. Yes, to be fair, there are a few lines and moments within the film that will have you have at the very least chuckling, but these are in the film only to provide audiences with a chance to breathe and relax momentarily from all the chaos and anarchy going on instead of existing as desperate attempts to keep the audience from falling asleep.

Above all though, one of the key reasons if not the main reason this film works on the level that it does comes courtesy of having Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. I say this because Johnson is a truly unique and talented thespian who excels at playing an, albeit highly buffed up, everyman. Indeed in both this movie and the others he has made throughout his career, there is a relatability to him where he may be larger than life, but not because of the size of his biceps. Indeed while the stars of action films made in the 80s focused mostly on their muscle power, Johnson manages to shine thanks to a terrific comprehension of the acting craft as well as the, previously mentioned, tight knit family dynamic as well as a never-quit drive in the heart instead of just simply the size of his biceps. Indeed even if it seems like nearly every shot in this film of Johnson, when he’s not flying a helicopter, puts him in a tight shirt that would most likely cut off the circulation to my brain if I ever tried to wear it, his mass of muscle manages to almost vanish as the finer details of his character actually begin to come through. Thus this film, unlike others in this genre, actually gives us a hero who is defined more by pathos and the power of his heart and soul instead of by sheer muscle mass and his or her presence on the screen.

All in all I can say beyond any and all doubt that San Andreas is one of the finest blends of a popcorn movie, a human-rooted drama, and special effects bonanza that I have seen in a while. Indeed this is a film that manages to work first and foremost because film helmer Brad Peyton manages to find and expertly utilize a terrific balancing act which results in all the pieces necessary for this film to succeed coming together in beautiful synchronicity for the duration of this film’s runtime. Yes, before anything else this is an extremely well put-together tale about both the power of family and the undying spirit to both save others and do everything we can to survive when disaster strikes. On top of that though, this film also manages to serve as a masterstroke from a technical perspective, and serves as a wonderfully created mix of complicated digital movie magic that is then seamlessly merged alongside real people and key physical sets. Above all though, this is quite the emotional film, but boy is it also fun to watch too! Thus it really is everything you could want from a summer popcorn film so go pop some, pass the salt, butter, and box of tissues if you please, and just sit back and enjoy! On a scale of 1-5 I give San Andreas “2015” a solid 3.5 out of 5.