It is possible that San Andreas is the most morally despicable blockbuster ever made. It is a sickening paean to selfishness, a movie that lionizes a public servant rescue worker who abandons his job in the middle of the greatest natural disaster in the history of America to steal a rescue helicopter to save only his wife and daughter, leaving thousands to die and suffer in his wake. It is, frankly, sickening.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Ray, who between his time in the LAFD and serving in Afghanistan has 600 rescues under his belt. I guess he figures that’s enough, because the second a massive quake snaps the San Andreas fault, causing unbelievable digital devastation in Los Angeles and San Francisco, he walks off the job and only takes care of his family. The movie opens with a clever sequence where a girl ends up in a car hanging over a cliff (the opening has a Final Destination playfulness to it that is missing from the rest of the film) and Ray and his team - self-described as a family - get her out against all odds. That family team is abandoned a few scenes later, never referenced again, not thought of once the big quake hits. Fuck those guys, right?
This gross dereliction of duty isn’t the biggest problem (although let me state for the record that I believe Ray should be brought up on charges at the end of the movie, and I mean that seriously) - San Andreas is structured in such a way that only nameless secondary characters and one villainous coward get killed off. That means that Ray suffers absolutely no consequences along the way - he doesn’t lose a friend or a loved one - and so he walks unscathed (seemingly literally) through all the destruction, rewarded for leaving behind the millions of Angelenos he has sworn to protect.
That structure - no secondary characters to be endangered - is a huge part of why San Andreas sucks on top of being morally repugnant. The typical disaster movie is well-stocked with characters who will get pulverized as the film goes on, building stakes and tension and even giving a human element to the wanton destruction. Because every character in San Andreas is clearly, obviously safe from harm there’s no sense of danger. Worse than that, because no one we follow will die or ever become convincingly endangered, the millions who do die are reduced to absolutely nothing - random pixels in a movie that is soaked in boring CGI.
I know that sounds silly, but it gets to the heart of why San Andreas is so dreadfully tedious - the deaths of humans have the same impact as buildings shaking apart, and after the first time you see some buildings come down in this movie you will have seen almost everything the movie has to offer. It goes on for another 90 minutes after that, unfortunately, just boring visions of buildings crumbling, non-existent digital people getting snuffed, and our characters running and showing absolutely no concern for the safety or well-being of others around them.
Very few movies use The Rock correctly, and San Andreas is not one of them. He’s actually pretty terrible here, largely wooden and unable to use any of his natural charisma. His character is kind of a sad sack - he’s getting divorced from Carla Gugino (which would bum me out too) and she’s moving in with her new boyfriend, a billionaire who could become the father to his implausibly gorgeous daughter Alexandra Daddario (she’s just implausibly gorgeous in general, not in this movie in particular. She looks like a different species from most of the people in this movie). So that’s like your conflict in the middle of all this CGI destruction - can Ray save his family while also saving his family? And will you care? The answers are yes, yes and no.
Daddario, on the other hand, makes a convincing case that the whole movie should be about her. After a brief, irritating moment of being a damsel-in-distress she becomes a kick-ass survivor who drags gormless British brothers to safety (and into her heart, natch). The idea of Daddario as a woman who knows how to deal with an emergency because of her rescue pilot dad is great, and because she doesn’t have all that ‘servant of public safety’ weight that comes with being in the LAFD (motto: Serving With Courage, Integrity and Pride), it isn’t morally distressing to see her mostly saving her own bacon. A cooler movie might have had Ray stay to help in Los Angeles, wracked with guilt about not going for his daughter - but because he raised her right she’s doing great all on her own. This is not that movie.
But Daddario is good, and I would like to see someone give her a chance at playing a role more complex than ‘looks great in a tank top,’ although San Andreas comes close before robbing her of her self-reliance so her daddy can make a big save. And here’s a spoiler: considering the tsunami that wipes out San Fran at the end of the movie (and the handful of people he helped escape a falling building earlier), she’s one of the only two people he saves in the entire motion picture.
I don’t even care about how stupid San Andreas is - and as the movie goes on it becomes so stupid that if you rolled your eyes at every stupid thing that happened you would just be spinning your eyes round and round like a cartoon character who just got punched really hard - what I care about is how San Andreas manages to make its destruction both boring and ethically troubling. The movie values neither human life nor audience entertainment, which is simply a lose/lose situation. You’ll be so incredibly bored by the meaningless digital mayhem that you will have plenty of time to consider all the pixelated souls being snuffed out as the Rock commandeers a valuable, life saving helicopter and bugs the fuck out of town.