‘Big, Dumb and Fun’ should almost be its own genre by now, and San Andreas is nothing but.
May 29, 2015
There’s an interesting trend in today's disaster movies. Yes, they all feature disaster, but less obvious (though almost always present) is the Estranged Family Subplot. If you don’t think you’ve seen it, you have, because just in recent years it’s been in Twister, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Volcano, War of the Worlds, Independence Day and, now, San Andreas.
What is it? A separated couple — usually with divorce papers freshly drafted — sees one of the pair now involved with a wealthier, more glamorous partner, while the other tries to reconnect with their angsty teenage child/children. Disaster then strikes, the new partner proves to be a vacuous douche who satisfyingly bites it and a series of deadly trials and tribulations ultimately brings the original family unit back into line.
Point is: if you’re currently estranged from your ex but desire reconciliation, get yourself over to a tectonic hot-zone ASAP, because as they say: ‘nothing rekindles the flame better than literally everyone else around you dying in a horrible painful disaster’.
As far as disaster movies go, San Andreas doesn’t break the mould; it just settles for breaking everything else per the catastrophe movie social contract. Our hero, a rescue helicopter pilot named Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson, aka ’The Rock’), is called into work after a giant earthquake lays waste to both San Francisco and his plans for a bonding weekend with his daughter Blake (True Detective's Alexandra Daddario). For the record, yes, Ray’s estranged wife (Carla Gugino) is also moving in with her wealthy new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), and divorce papers have been dispatched.
Estranged Family Subplot checklist: complete. Despite being a rescue pilot for the State, Ray opts to rescue only those people who feature in his family photo, meaning the bulk of the film involves him driving, boating or flying past hundreds of thousands of dying people in the hope of finding his own daughter.
Disaster movies, of course, are all about the special effects, and in San Andreas they are genuinely spectacular, with giant quakes rippling through entire cities like waves beneath sawdust. Skyscrapers topple, boulevards buckle and a tsunami stares down the Golden Gate Bridge like it’s some sort of Godzilla. In what marks a major departure for the genre, scientists are again the ones who predict it all (chief amongst them, Paul Giamatti), but this time there’s no 'this is mankind’s own fault’ lecture. It’s pure and simple Mother Nature vs People, and Mama’s well pissed.
San Andreas is a film where big muscles and big chests (both male and female) dominate the screen, which in the 3D format is almost comical at times. Performances are rarely noteworthy in disaster movies, but in this case Game of Thrones’s Art Parkinson deserves a mention as the romantic interest’s younger brother Ollie. Beyond that, though, San Andreas’s star is the disaster itself, and, thankfully, an earthquake can’t mutter incomprehensibly corny lines like its victims so often do. ‘Big, Dumb and Fun’ should almost be its own genre by now, and San Andreas is nothing but.
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