Spoil-Free Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I’ve always had a hard time getting really into movies where you know the outcome. Like watching Soylent Green after 1992 (a whole year before my birth and a decade and a half before I actually saw the film). Like being the guy who waited more than a week to see The Village. Or like viewing Citizen Kane knowing full well what Rosebud is. Wouldn’t the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back if you didn’t already know it was coming? My dislike of foregone conclusions goes even further; movies about events are often disappointing. Clearly the Nazis will lose; obviously *insert factual sports team* is going to win the title—again; surprise surprise the cowboys beat the Indians. So you can imagine my hesitation when entering the prequel to a film who’s ending plot twist is so famous they stuck it on the cover of the DVD release. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does not disappoint though. All you really knew was that 2012 Earth at the beginning of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was going to eventually become a post-apocalyptic landscape run by hyper-intelligent apes and some humans would end up in hyper-speed space travel—for whatever reason. That’s a lot of distance to cover honestly and really anything could happen. That being said there would have been no reason for the tension in the film being played off the suspense of the agitated humans to eliminate their ape counter-parts or from the hope of a peaceful resolution because those are the two endings we can be sure won’t happen. The film avoids them with great deft. There is no point in the dystopian story where you think either of those things is even a possibility.
Before we get down to business let’s all agree though that this movie shouldn’t have even happened—if you’re ever in a large group of humans having barely survived an apocalypse and you apes riding on horses, fucking run. You’ve already lost. That’s where the movie should’ve ended, about 20 minutes in. But regardless that’s not what happened so we have a little more to discuss.
I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on opening weekend in a popular theater. Those were my first two mistakes. If this movie going experience has taught me anything it’s that I might not care about viewership but I need this blog to get popular so I can start getting press screenings of movies. Let me paint you a word picture of what was going on in on DC are Movie Theater Sunday afternoon. I sit down, ready to experience this movie, preparing myself for a letdown as I do for every film whose trailer was just too good to be true. Then about 5 minutes into the preview, as I’m watching the hapless mess that is bound to be Angelina Jolie’s sophomore attempt at directing, Unbroken, a family of what seems like 15 but what in retrospect was probably more like 5 sits in the open swath of seats to my left. “Fuck,” I exclaim under my breadth noticing that 12 of the 15 members of this family are small children. Then to my right halfway down the aisle a baby starts making baby noises—the type of noises normally thought of as cute by the average person but which to me is reminiscent of banshee cries, Wallace Shawn’s voice, or music of Iggy Azalea. Now why the fuck these two shit-bird sets of parents brought their kids to this movie, I don’t know, I don’t care, and honestly it doesn’t matter. Throughout the movie their spawn kept making more and more noise. By minute 15 I assured myself that this movie better be incredible or else I was going to have to smack someone in the face. As you can see, I am not in prison; so Apes did not disappoint.
This could easily be describe as a film about the “as per usual.” As per usual things are going fine enough for everyone concerned for a while. Then, as per usual, one single asshead messes it up for everyone. As per usual, Andy Serkis is actually incredible. But, as per usual, he will get no recognition for his genius because he doesn’t look like a person on screen (which should be a positive, not a negative). As per usual, Kirk Acevedo’s character ruins it for everyone—which is as much a spoiler as telling you Sean Bean dies in Outlaw…surprise! As per usual, turns out humans are brash and those that aren’t brash are few, far between, and scientists (why are they always scientists? Hmmm). As per usual, a post-apocalyptic theater remains one of the modern eras biggest triumphs—I think I’ll go so far as to say it is to the 2010’s what film-noir was to the 1940’s (Look in the sky: it’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s Big Statement Che!).
What are the positives of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Unlike its 1968 sequel it has a brilliant subtlety to it you wouldn’t think you’d find in a movie that has a scene with apes riding horses shooting machine guns. The cast is outstanding: Andy Serkis the most underrated actor of our generation tears it up as Ceasar again (I will take this opportunity to say that his 11 minute performance as Golem in The Hobbit honestly deserved an Oscar nod), Toby Kebbell continues to alternate between good and awful movies as he tries to find a sweet spot in his acting career—no but actually. Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman are good—as per usual—and Keri Russell finally redeems Running Wilde in my mind. And for some very odd reason Judy Greer plays a character that not only has no lines and has little more than 5 actual minutes of screen time, she plays it in a CIG suit so you actually wouldn’t even know or care it was her. It’s beautiful, harrowing, but beautiful. Post-simian virus San Francisco is designed amazingly even if the film lacks the one defining, often iconic, shot I like to see in a film like this Planet of the Apes had the shot of the Statue of Liberty, Snowpiecer (my most recent post-apocalyptic review) had the shot of the door opening on the “car of death”, even the prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes had the shot of the Golden Gate covered in apes. It’s hard to say anything about the writing because this is both a movie with little actual dialogue and little story development. You’re not going to be blown away by any developments but that is not to say that the movie does not do work because it does the work just happens to be mostly lateral.
The action sequences, while exciting, are a little ridiculous. Even if you suspend your disbelief that apes could successfully operate a gun much less use it to great effect with no training at all the war sequences leave you mostly wondering if the director has ever heard of physics.
The biggest success of the film however was its, admittedly heavy-handed, parallels between the humans and the apes. It would have been very easy to make the apes the villains (as they are in the original) or make the humans he villains (as they normally are in man v nature films after 1994). Instead Matt Reeves decides to go with two parallel man v society tales. The dichotomy of the parallel stories is very poignant and surprisingly relevant for a movie about talking chimpanzees.
I didn’t see it in this new 4DX experience that everyone is talking about. I saw it in boring old 2D so I can’t tell you how to see it. But these guys can help you figure out if you want to see it in full face blasting experience.
I’d go see it were I you. But don’t be an asshole, get a babysitter.
Acting (Main Cast): 10/10
Acting (Supporting Cast): 7/10
Action Sequences: 8/10
Special Effects: 10/10
Overall Rating: 7.69/10 (great)
Pop Culture Che Suggests: 3/5 (People will be talking about it, why would you want to be left out? I’m not sure if you’ve got to see it a bunch of times with all this fancy tech or not.)