‘San Andreas’: What the Critics Are Saying

Dwayne Johnson faces off against mother nature in this disaster flick centered around a rescue-helicopter pilot searching for his daughter after a series of major earthquakes rock California.

When a massive earthquake hits California, a rescue-helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) makes a dangerous journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save his estranged daughter (Alexandra Daddario) in San Andreas

The film reunites Johnson and director Brad Peyton, who worked together on 2012’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and also features Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti and Ioan Gruffudd, with a screenplay written by Lost‘s Carlton Cuse

Opening opposite the Cameron Crowe-directed romantic comedy Aloha (and coupled with Tomorrowland‘s less-than-stellar opening last weekend), San Andreas is projected to earn the top spot this weekend without too much competition. The disaster flick is expected to gross around $40 million.

Read what top critics are saying about San Andreas:

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Justin Lowe writes, “West-coasters are known for their often nonchalant attitude toward disasters, but Warner Bros.’ third big-budget release of May is far too upbeat in the face of catastrophe to spur any tectonic shift in perspective,” and while the film “won’t exactly tip the Richter scale, it will clearly inject some fresh PG-13 action into theaters and could still resonate with crowds gearing up for summer vacation. … Although the geological principals that underlie the plot are fairly solid, the film predictably exaggerates them to apocalyptic proportions, as earthquakes split California apart with a zipper-like effect. Those particulars may be of little concern to audiences, but some may raise an eyebrow at [Johnson]’s dereliction of duty as an active-duty LAFD pilot who ignores orders and goes AWOL on a personal mission with one of the department’s helicopters.” 

Johnson and Gugino’s relationship as a newly divorced couple thrust into this disastrous situation together “makes for an uneasy fit with the action-adventure scenario, and the movie is at its strongest when it integrates family dynamics into the plot rather than indulging in extreme couples therapy. Johnson is totally up for it, however, remaining one of the few contemporary action stars who can reassuringly embrace emotional situations at the height of catastrophe. When he’s not being vulnerable while hashing out his marital issues, he gives the type of heroic alpha-male performance we’ve come to reliably expect, along with the occasional twinkle of characteristic humor.” Altogether, “the scale of the spectacle is often disproportionate to the destruction depicted,” and if the film “eventually emerges as a feel-good disaster movie, it probably just reflects our aspirations for maintaining order in the inevitable chaos of a catastrophic quake.”

The New York TimesA.O. Scott notes, “As is the custom in movies of this kind, destruction is both universal and selective. Two major American cities are pretty much obliterated, catastrophes that presumably cause death on a huge scale. But the half-dozen or so people we care about struggle for survival with what the conventions of genre if not the laws of nature assure us are reasonably good odds.” The film’s “ground-level action is a series of problem-solving challenges, which are stressful, in a fun kind of way, to observe,” but “in a movie like this, the big money is spent — and, the studio hopes, made — on images of extensive devastation,” so the “most disturbing thing about this may be how dull and routine it seems.” The CGI-constructed destruction has “a way of stripping such spectacles of impact and interest. And we have seen so many of them recently that it’s hard not to shrug, stifle a yawn and reach for the popcorn when the Golden Gate Bridge once again buckles and sways and drops vehicles into the bay.”

Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips says, “We may as well call it It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Earthquake, though the tremors in San Andreas aren’t so much mad as disappointed.” The film respects “the essential hypocrisy required by any half-decent disaster movie. Thousands may die anonymous, painful deaths, but as long as we give a damn-ette about the fates of the central characters, then we can forget about the community at large,” but the film “manages to sustain some interest along its narrative fault lines.” While “the effects are quite good,” the film “has the usual 21st-century disinterest in selectivity or pacing,” though Giamatti “can really holler like a pro when it’s time to encourage extras to take cover under the nearest desk” and Gruffudd “clearly took night classes in petulant villainy wherever Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno received his training.”

The Washington Post‘s Michael O’Sullivan comments, “The disaster movie of the 1970s hasn’t gotten any better, just better looking.” The film’s dialogue is “lame, its plot both predictable and implausible, and the character development beside the point. Even Dwayne Johnson, that force of cinematic nature and rock-ribbed charisma, doesn’t have enough charm to dig this mess of a movie out of the rubble of cliche it’s buried in.”

New York Daily NewsJoe Neumaier gives the film one star and calls it a “disaster — literally.” However, Johnson’s “charm and family-man-style fearlessness as the movie’s star is the only saving grace in this thuddingly repetitive, badly written crash-a-thon.” It “isn’t a realistic film, it’s a ride. Which is fine — it’s just not a very good one. The urbanized mayhem, with very few human faces endangered, avoids potentially troubling echoes of last month’s deadly earthquake in Nepal.” It features “destruction for destruction’s sake, with cardboard characters impossible to knock down.”