Humanity has a strange fascination with its own demise. For a species that prides itself on control, we seem to make a lot of movies about not having any. By common agreement, these should be some of the most poignant stories around, exploring the sufferings of human helplessness. Except most large-scale disaster films are too distracted with the large-scale disasters to give much attention to the characters whose lives are consequently being ruined. Movies like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, even Independence Day, become little more than destruction candy and CGI-flexing.
San Andreas follows the tradition closely. It’s a Michael Bay movie without being made by Michael Bay. This is disaster for disaster’s sake. It’s got wanton catastrophe, the heroic father, the beautiful broad who finds her own Shia LaBeouf, and lots of good intentions. Though sincere, there’s barely an original or challenging notion, as it often resorts to family sentimentality and a misplaced sense of emotion.
It’s even got the science guru such films always favour, otherwise the end of the world wouldn’t be realistic, right? His only purpose is to provide academic confirmation that everyone is truly screwed – with a side of scientific melodrama.
The only reason I can’t entirely denounce San Andreas is its genuinely earnest spirit. The actors, particularly Dwayne Johnson, are evidently taking this story seriously, even to the point of empathy. Regardless of the déjà vu, most calamity films don’t have that to boast of.
Ultimately there’s little to be said, because what could be said already has been in every other movie like San Andreas. I would have loved to see a divorced couple who do not re-couple via shared hardship. I would have loved to see a new boyfriend who isn’t villianised, and I would have loved to see someone significant die who wasn’t resuscitated with convenient serendipity. While the actors and even the movie itself play these with conviction – it’s the same frustrating, erroneous sense of creativity and goodwill that lets San Andreas believe it’s something special. Like many before it, this is merely disaster porn that means well.