I wasn’t especially keen on watching “San Andreas”, since the trailers didn’t really blow me away, and it looked like a movie that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. However, when you got some friends who you repeatedly drag into movies that they don’t really want to see, from time to time, you’ve got to return the favor (I know. Bummer, right?). Now, actually, for a while it looked like I would dodge this particular bullet, since my friend and I repeatedly planned on seeing this movie, only for something to come up in the end, so one of us had to cancel. I guess the universe tried to tell me something. But did I listen? Of course not. So last Friday, when “San Andreas” was shown at the beautiful “Kino im Schloss” open-air-cinema, the weather was fine, and none of us had an excuse not to go, I finally went to see it after all, hoping against hope that I would actually like it. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
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Mind you, it’s definitely not the worst disaster movie that I’ve even seen. Not even close. However, apart from a couple of cool things, it was extremely clichéd, and towards the end, more and more deteriorated from being “just” mediocre to plain bad. However, before we venture into the mediocre, the bad, and the downright ugly, let’s first discuss the things that I actually liked about it. First and foremost, that’s The Rock, who is his usual charismatic self. In my opinion, he’s the only worthy successor of the larger-than-life action heroes of old, who unfortunately more often than not is burdened with movies who are not worthy of his talents – like this one. Nevertheless, he definitely elevates the movie from something that without him would have been even more forgettable. He’s not the only one, though. I also really enjoyed the performances by the ever-reliable Carla Gugino and the increasingly interesting Alexandra Daddario. I also quite liked certain sequences, like the beginning in the canyon, or the first earthquake scenes in San Francisco and especially the one in Los Angeles, where Ray comes to the rescue of his ex-wife. That scene was also very exemplary of another strength of the movie: Director Brad Peyton definitely elevates this movie with many cool, long takes that really stood out for me. It’s a strong deviation from the nowadays more common zooms and quick cuts that make it nigh impossible to follow the action. There were also a couple of short moments that really stood out for me. I loved that during the scene in the parking garage, the characters actually had to use their brains to get out of this dangerous situation, and found a couple of clever solutions for the problem. It’s far too rare that protagonists actually have to think in movies, so I really loved that. Finally, there’s this one scene were Blake formulates a plan and urges them to move on. Usually in movies like this, when you got a leader, everyone follows him or her without question. Here, however, Ben actually took the time to speak out and say “Wait a minute, is this really our best option?”. Of course, they ultimately went ahed with her plan anyway, but I loved that they showed the characters actually think about it, trying to find a better solution. It’s something that’s hardly ever done in movies like that.
Unfortunately, these moments where the movie – however slightly – deviated from the common formula, made the clichéd rest just all the more jarring. One of its biggest offenders – and one of the occasions where “San Andreas” disappointed me the most – was the depiction of Emma’s new hubby. Because at first, it really looked like they would not take the easy route, and actually show him as quite a nice guy (whose main shortcoming is that he isn’t The Rock; but then again, who is?). The talk in the plane is a particular standout. So imagine my disappointment when he actually leaves Blake behind and flees in order to save his own skin. And as if that weren’t enough, he later shoves someone from a safe spot to take it over himself – finally making him the Billy Zane of the movie. Of course, after doing these devious things, he had to pay the ultimate price. Hell, they even had to take his professional success away from him, since his allegedly earthquake-proof building actually falls apart, while others are still standing in the end. Safest building my ass! Anyway, that was far too clichéd and over the top for my taste. I was also surprised by how uneven the effects were. Some shots looked absolutely stunning, while others seemed unfinished and/or artificial. The breaking of the dam and some of the longer shots where Ray is driving through San Francisco with his boat were particular bad. Maybe they ran out of time and/or money, or it’s a result of different companies working on different scenes, but I was rather startled by how artifical some of it looked. I also have to say, as much as I love San Francisco myself, and usually enjoy seeing it in movies, but… after many movies in recent years which featured it prominently, it does start to get a little old. And, of course, I really could have done without the – seemingly obligatory – patriotic shot of the raised flag at the end. Scenes like that just make me laugh out loud by now, sorry. At least movies like “Sharknado 3” aren’t serious about them – contrary to “San Andreas”.
My biggest problem with it, however, were the last 20-30 minutes. Before, it actually was mostly entertaining, despite some mishaps here and there. But near the end, the movie increasingly started to deteriorate. It starts with Ray’s recollection of the death of their (other) daughter, a scene that I might have found touching, if it wouldn’t have had “important information for the finale of the movie” written all over it. Now, for a while, I actually had hopes that I misread it, and that it was only there to give the movie and/or the characters some depth. But no, it happened just as I suspected it: His other daughter Blake pretty much ends up in the same situation as his deceased daughter did: Drowning right in front of him, with Ray seemingly unable to do anything about it. They even did the exact same thing that Ray described before, about the moment where his daughter realized that he wouldn’t be able to save her, and this look of resignation in her eyes. However, all of that didn’t work for me at all, because it was just way too obvious that this time, he would succeed where he previously failed. And maybe, just maybe, I might have been able to live with that. But if there’s one kind of scene that I can’t stand, regardless of the movie it appears in, it’s the “oh no, it’s over, (s)he’s dead, might as well give up now”-scene. I probably saw it first in “The Abyss”, and as much as I love the rest of the movie, I always hated that scene. I guess part of it is the feeling that whenever they do that, they cheat the audience. They want to have us emotionally invested and devastated, only to have someone jump out of the curtain and say “Haha, fooled ya!”. Plus, I generally have a problem with alleged deaths which then turn out to be not as final as previously assumed – and it just happens to irk me even more if said resurrection actually happens in the same friggin’ scene. Anyway, that was the moment where “San Andreas” lost me once and for all. And don’t even get me started on the huge amount of people who seemingly drowned when the tsunami hit San Francisco – but we’re not really supposed to care about them; it’s all right as long as the Gaineses’ are safe! Nah, sorry. It actually started quite strong, and for a while, I thought it could end up being better than I hoped, but then it increasingly became exactly the movie that I was afraid it would be. Maybe I’ve just seen too many disaster movies to enjoy another formulaic entry in the genre, but as heroic as The Rock may be, even he couldn’t save “San Andreas” for me.