To understand the appeal of a disaster movie like San Andreas, just watch a 7-year-old spend 25 minutes carefully build and balance a towering city of blocks… and then immediately destroy it with a swipe of the arm to see everything come crumbling down. We all like to see the blocks fall down or the sand castle get swamped by a wave. That childhood fascination never goes away. So when Hollywood pours millions of CGI into wiping out not one but two great American cities, that movie has our immediate attention—no matter if it seems familiar, lacks depth or perspective, and isn’t based in science—DID YOU SEE THAT TSUNAMI RACING TOWARDS SAN FRANCISCO?
San Andreas, directed by Brad Peyton, stars Dwayne Johnson as a heroic fire and rescue pilot who is uniquely positioned to save his almost-ex wife (Carla Gugino) in Los Angeles and their teen daughter (Alexandra Daddario) in San Francisco when a chain reaction of super-quakes unzips California’s major faultline and almost realizes Lex Luthor’s nefarious real estate dream.
Johnson is the perfect actor for this type of move, a toy-like action figure who matches the CGI crumbling blocks. “With his air of alpha-male invincibility, he’s given the chance to step out from the ensemble shadow of the Fast and Furious films and topline his own shock-and-awe laser show,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty in his B-minus review of the film. “And while the role isn’t exactly Hamlet, it’s a gig he seems born for.”
For more of EW’s review, and a roundup of opinions from other critics around the country, click below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“As patently preposterous, scientifically dubious, and unapologetically corny as director Brad Peyton’s orgy of CGI devastation is, its popcorn prophecy of the inevitable is a blast of giddy, disposable fun. It’s a ridiculously satisfying slice of summer disaster porn.”
Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“The movie is a smart kind of stupid. Its 114 minutes whiz by, along the way meeting many of the requirements for something like this to work … It’s several rungs above last summer’s lousy tornado movie, Into the Storm, and far beneath the majestic dimensionality of George Miller’s Fury Road. There’s no standout set piece in San Andreas. It’s an album with no single.”
David Edelstein (New York)
“The PG-13 rating has the effect of making the most consequential element of the story—the deaths of millions—happen tastefully offscreen, out of sight, out of mind. Skyscrapers buckle, highways crumple, seas rise, metropolises collapse … But since we’re mainly concerned with whether Dwayne will sign his divorce papers … and Hugo will summon the courage to ask Alexandra if she, you know, likes him, it’s all a lot of CGI mood music.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Though no one will ever confuse him with Olivier, Johnson is ideal in this kind of movie—huge enough to compete with the special effects, and with an aura of doggedness and competence that makes you believe he’d never give up. … There’s not much nuance there, but it’s a form of good acting.”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“An action hero with a rare kind of gravitas, Johnson has a stabilizing influence on all the silliness that surrounds him. At 43 and a movie star for more than a dozen years, he has a face that is showing signs of emotional erosion, enabling him to convey a conviction that can’t be easy given the implausible nature of the proceedings.”
Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)
“The disaster movie of the 1970s hasn’t gotten any better, just better looking. … San Andreas is a triumph of CGI mayhem… viscerally thrilling to behold, especially in 3-D. Scarier still is how stagnant the genre has gotten in every other aspect. The dialogue in San Andreas is lame, its plot both predictable and implausible, and the character development beside the point.”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald) ▼
“The bulk of this huge, visually impressive and aggressively stupid movie could have been shot in someone’s basement, and the overall effect would have still been the same: Been there, done that, tired of it. Also, what’s with the film’s lazy approach to its few character deaths? They come off as afterthoughts, as if the script supervisor said “Oh yeah, we forgot about this guy!” Even The Poseidon Adventure was decent enough to send off Shelley Winters with a great, hammy exit.”
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
“The most disturbing thing about this may be how dull and routine it seems. Computer-generated imagery can produce remarkably detailed vistas of disaster—bridges and buildings collapsing; giant ships flung onto urban streets; beloved landmarks pulverized—but the technology also has a way of stripping such spectacles of impact and interest. … It’s hard not to shrug, stifle a yawn and reach for the popcorn when the Golden Gate Bridge once again buckles…”
Tom Russo (Boston Globe)
“Still, for all the unabashed cliches and straight-faced silliness delivered by Johnson, Paul Giamatti, and their generally capable castmates, they’re doing something right. The spectacle they put together with director Brad Peyton (Johnson’s Journey 2 and upcoming Journey 3) does get us pulling for these folks to make it out of the rubble okay.”
Andrew O’Hehir (Salon)
“There’s a bit of flag-waving towards the end of San Andreas, and a passing reference to the idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might not have been entirely pointless—because crucible of manhood, something something—but mostly the message is that dad-type guys are still cool in this era of modified gender relations, and the nuclear family can still be redeemed.”
Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle)
“With a final line of dialogue that will reverberate across the eons as one of the worst in Hollywood history, San Andreas marks itself as a film that’s so awful it’s actually pretty great. This is how the world ends, not with a bang, but with a guffaw.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 42
Rotten Tomatoes: 50 percent
Length: 114 minutes
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti
Directed by Brad Peyton
Distributor: Warner Bros.