Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Remember when Mark Wahlberg starred in that terrible remake of Planet of the Apes thirteen years ago? The one with the conch shell helmets and Apebraham Lincoln? Let's just go ahead and remove that from any sort of Ape canon from this point forward. Also, an ape cannon would be great. It can either be a cannon built and used by apes, or a cannon that fires apes at people. Hold up. STOP. It's way too early to get this derailed from the movie at hand... Focus.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place 10 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as the apes (still led by Caesar) now have a fully functional society of hundreds in the forest outside of San Fransisco. Through a chance encounter, a lingering group of humans run into the ape colony, and a fragile alliance must be formed in order for the humans to get the electrical power they so desperately need to utilize their iPads and JC Penny Cake Pop makers. Apes don't need cake pops. That's what makes them scary.
I'm happy that I rewatched "Rise" the night before I saw this, as I forgot about several elements and characters. Long gone is James Franco, who is now presumed dead; but still around are Koba the evil-looking ape, Rocket the bald ape, and Maurice the wise, friendly orangutan. Luckily, they all have distinguishing physical features, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tell anyone apart. If Caesar's son didn't have battle wounds, and his wife didn't have head jewelry, I would have wondered why Caesar was always giving these two random apes special treatment? Does that make me ape-ist? Because one of my best friends growing up was an ape. My third cousin married an ape three years ago. I'm totally not an ape-ist... Anyway, despite the fact that a lot of them looked identical, the apes in the film were incredibly seamless in their environment. If there was ever a grand, crowning achievement in making fake apes look awesome on film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets the Golden Banana.
In fact, a lot of the visuals and camera work of this film were flat-out incredible. Ohhhhh, that tank shot! That was awesome. And I know everyone jokingly touts this as the movie with the "apes on horses shooting machine guns", but damn if I won't admit it: that shot of that ape riding his horse through a wall of fire while firing two machine guns made my brain release those rare endorphins that I only get when I think about skeleton wizards having a lightning fight or a shark riding a bear that's riding another shark.
This film has bona-fide moments. And lots of them. And these moments amplified by the music. And that's aside from that one great moment of peace when the humans hear diegetic music for the first time in probably 8 years, but Michael Giacchino's score was one of the best I've heard in a while. Couple that with some pretty raw emotion translated brilliantly through the aid of CG monkey faces, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits you on nearly every sensory level. If only they could have made this movie accurately smell like Caesar's Bananaville, which I imagine has an aroma much like Tropic World at Brookfield Zoo, only times about 1000. I don't think the ALZ-113 drug made the apes smart enough to develop indoor plumbing. YET.
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of the thematic elements of this movie is that both sides of the ape/human are able to coexist, except for one person from each side being a jerk. On the ape side, it makes sense why that one ape would turn to villainy against the humans, with a pretty convincing scene pointing out his personal grievances. On the human front, it more or less boiled down to an uneducated dolt with a near bi-polar level of rage issues who hates apes because the human-named virus "Simian Flu" wiped out most of humanity. "Simian Flu killed everyone off, the apes are evil!" Which is followed by a regular person informing him that it was a human drug that started the virus, and it's just a name." Which seems ridiculous until you realize that there are people like this all around us in real life already. "If global *WARM*ing is real, then why is it so *COLD* outside, Mr. Science...?" These kind of dumb, negative, one-sided, mean people didn't bother me that much, though, because there was contrarily also one person on each side that tried to hold that small string of peace together as long as they could because they saw the good that the other side was capable of. Jerks vs. reasonable people. You can probably guess who wins in the long run.
But the fact that this film has themes at all makes it better summer blockbuster fare than, say, Transformers or something. Which, if you noticed, is also about humans trying to coexist with an intrusive, stronger non-human element. But if you want to attempt to tell me a strong theme or an emotional moment in Trans4mers, I'd love to hear it so that I can probably laugh in your face. And guess what? They are both summer tent pole movies with lots of guns and explosions. But only *one* of them had a decent screenplay and a director who cared about making a lasting product. If anything, Dawn of the Planet of the apes proves that we don't *need* things like Bay's robots as go-to summer films, when the choice to make *good* crazy special effects films is a viable option. And, I mean, it's not like DOTPOTA (why haven't I been writing it like that this whole review...?) is some pinky-extended-while-drinking-$200-wine type of high-class film; it's about talking monkeys creating a treetop village in California.
I enjoyed DOTPOTA better than ROTPOTA, and I liked ROTPOTA plenty. In my ROTPOTA review, I believe I said that it didn't even need the POTA title to function successfully; but with the DOTPOTA, it extends the story of ROTPOTA, giving a characters like Caesar and Koba backstories that they use as driving emotional forces in the sequel. Now this series is actually shaping into the POTA universe and making sense. I like really, really liked this movie, and probably would have sat through another hour of it. I'm looking forward to what our (future) poo-throwing overlords end up doing next. War of the Planet of the Apes? Genesis of the Planet of the Apes? Eroticizing of the Planet of the Apes? Ewwww. Hey, I'M NOT AN APE-IST!!! I JUST DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT.
9 out of 10
Good review, sums up most of my sentiments exactly (that tank shot, doe....)
Couldn't agree more with your comments on the odd man out ruining everyone's good time of ape co-existence. I thought the most interesting theme in the movie was the dichotomy between the humans and the non-human apes (technically humans are great apes as well, so don't we already live on a planet of the apes?). Towards the end, despite Caesar's desire to make sure apes keep the moral high ground above humans, we see the apes under Koba being more human than ever: imprisoning members of another species. I felt that was ironic and powerful in a slightly more subtle way.
And don't worry, you're not ape-ist. Most animals appear almost indistinguishable from each other in human eyes, sometimes because they express their differences in ways we aren't accustomed to notice.
[Matthew Rueger] "we see the apes under Koba being more human than ever: imprisoning members of another species. I felt that was ironic and powerful in a slightly more subtle way."
And eventually, as we all know, that becomes the norm once we hit the Charlton Heston timeframe of the original Planet of the Apes. Either the apes become bitter overall, or it is just natural instinct for the alpha species to imprison species lower than them?
[Matthew Rueger] "And don't worry, you're not ape-ist. Most animals appear almost indistinguishable from each other in human eyes, sometimes because they express their differences in ways we aren't accustomed to notice."
Phew, that bonobo ape across the street has been shooting me dirty looks over this. UNJUSTLY!
I finally saw DOTPOTA this week on HBO. I saw ROTPOTA in the theater and quite liked it, as the ape intelligence was only getting started, and had just a hint of ape talking at the end.
I am going to diverge here and say that I thought DOTPOTA went too far. Even in science fiction land, 10 years does not seem like enough time for the apes to evolve so much. Now I know apes are fully grown in like 3 years, so there could have been 3 generations of apes with the genetic material in place to allow speech and break dancing, but how did they learn to build Ewok villages and drive tanks in this same time frame? I think it should have been maybe 100 years later. Maybe the next movie will be further ahead, unless John Conner wants another go.
Anyway, I agree there were some nice action set pieces, and they tried their darndest to make the apes have some human character arcs (the relationship between Cesar and his son ( no doubt influenced by Cesar observing John Lithgow and James Franco's relationship)).
As Scott pointed out there were some awesome visuals and the effects shows of San Francisco overgrown with foliage were nicely done.
The fighting at the end between Koba and evil ape was too over the top. I realize they are apes and can actually jump great distances and swing form vines, but it seemed too CGI.
The humans successfully restart the hydroelectric power plant, and amazingly in 10 years the electrical grid feeding San Francisco is perfectly intact and iPads boot up immediately. I am not an electrical engineer, but I would imagine there would be lots of broken wires, frayed electrical connections, fires and transformer explosions.
And finally, how is it that some of the apes developed English accents? Accents come from emulating those around you, they don't organically develop.
Sorry to spoil the party.