LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwayne Johnson has played his share of outsized heroes over the years. His characters have taken down crazed criminals and evil empires. He's crushed an army of fire ants with his chin. He's even flexed his way out of a plaster cast.
But not even "The Rock" can beat an earthquake.
In "San Andreas," Hollywood's latest venture into the well-trod territory of disaster films, the famed fault line takes the spotlight as the unforgiving cause of a series of devastating earthquakes from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The 810-mile long rift might not have the maniacal drive of Ultron or the eat-or-be-eaten focus of genetically engineered dinosaurs, but as blockbuster villains go, it does have the distinction of being a real threat to many people.
That's part of the reason why it has proved to be such a compelling cinematic foe. Whether triggered by natural causes as in 1974's "Earthquake," or used as a threat to destroy Silicon Valley in "A View to a Kill," or even as a means to Lex Luthor's real estate dreams in "Superman," the inherent drama and ever-present danger resonates even with those outside of California.
Director Brad Peyton's "San Andreas," which opens Friday, imagines the possible outcome of the largest magnitude earthquake ever. Buildings crumble and burn, and bridges collapse as Johnson's first responder Ray and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) travel up the coast to save their daughter (Alexandra Daddario).
"I think we as human beings are constantly fascinated by the desire to be able to control everything and the realization that we can't. There's nothing like mother nature to remind us of that," said Gugino.
While the "San Andreas" team is quick to point out that the film, penned by "Lost's" Carlton Cuse, is primarily meant to thrill and entertain, all have had their own scares with earthquakes. A few were even inspired by the film to get a little more prepared for future shakers.
In fact, the story originated with producer Beau Flynn's real-life experiences. Three weeks after he moved to Los Angeles, the 1994 Northridge earthquake struck.
The early morning, 6.7 magnitude quake rattled even the most seasoned California residents. But for a 24-year-old Miami-raised newcomer, it was life-altering.
"It was just such a foreign feeling," said Flynn, who recalled being amazed by both the terror of the tremor and the immediate selflessness of his neighbors rushing out to help each other where they could.
Now, Flynn even keeps an emergency quake kit in his car.
Unlike many disaster films, "San Andreas" features a rather exceptional family, who's as equipped as possible to deal with the escalating challenges of the enormous event, including a 15-story tsunami heading straight for San Francisco.
"We did really want to try to include things that are real to try and let people know what to do," said Flynn. "The whole concept is 'stop, cover and hold.' Get underneath something and hang on to something secure."
For his part, Johnson prepared for the film by training with CareFlight, a non-profit emergency services company based in Australia.
"It was a life-changing experience for me. In the past I've had the opportunity to play some pretty cool guys who were pretty proficient at what they did, but with something like this, you're playing real men and women who are out there every day," he said. "In the face of adversity, when all of us are running away, they are running in and flying in and facing that danger."
Things really crystalized for Johnson after he took his family to see the film.
"It sparked a lot of dialogue for us afterward — a lot of fun dialogue. Not in terms of making light of what was happening, but like, let's do some fun drills," said Johnson.
One, he said, was based on the question of what would happen if some of the family were upstairs when a massive earthquake hit. So, they got out a timer, sent half the family to the second level, and started running drills.
"It turns into this big mess of laughs, like 'You're a little slow!' and 'What are you doing?'" he laughed.
"As a family, I think we're about as prepared as we could possibly be with something like this. As simplistic as it sounds, it's about getting against something sturdy," he said.
Just don't confuse "The Rock" for a rock.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr