Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dismal Sequel Of The Meh: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Bores!

The Good: Moments of concept
The Bad: Terrible editing, Mediocre direction and special effects, Boring story, Terrible character development
The Basics: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes sucks the life and interest out of viewers, endangering the viability of the franchise.

It is a rare thing, especially during Summer Blockbuster Season, that it takes me long to write a review of a current movie I have watched. In fact, going almost twenty-four hours since watching the biggest movie in America at any given time is virtually unheard of by me as a reviewer. And yet . . . that is exactly what has happened for me with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Yesterday as part of a fabulous day out together, my wife and I went to see Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and perhaps the best commentary on the film was that my wife fell asleep during it, missing the last twenty minutes of the movie. For a film that tries to be an action-adventure film, that is pretty much the death knell of a film.

It is very important to note that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the sequel to the 2011 Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (reviewed here!), which I loved and my wife did as well. So, if anything, we went into Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes biased in favor of it and both were disappointed. I managed to avoid all previews of the film before we saw Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and the best I can say of the film is that has an engaging-enough concept and for a sequel, it actually has everything in it needed to hold its own as a film on its own. While understanding the film’s protagonist – the ape Caesar – is aided by having seen his arc in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, all of the information needed to truly understand Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is contained within the film.

Ten years after a disease is unleashed upon the world that wipes out the majority of the world’s human population, the surviving residents of San Francisco have barricaded themselves behind walls where their power source is rapidly dwindling. In fact, human exploration outside their walls is so infrequent that the genetically-modified ape population that broke out of captivity at the lab at which they were experimented upon largely believes that the human population has been wiped out entirely. One day, two ape scouts encounter a human, Carver, who shoots one of the apes. Returning back to the barricades with the scientist, Malcolm, the exploratory team reports to the militant leader of San Francisco, Dreyfus. As the humans buckle down for a potential attack, the ape leader, Caesar, leads his population to San Francisco where he angrily declares peace by warning the humans not to leave San Francisco and enter ape territory.

Malcolm, however, knows that the fate of humanity hinges in part on getting the generator at the dam running again . . . with the wrinkle being that the dam is inside ape territory. Malcolm, Ellie, Alexander, and their team are given three days by Dreyfus to negotiate with the apes before the humans will attack the apes and take the dam by force. Malcolm talks his way into the ape camp and even explains the problem to Caesar and, despite the apes catching Carver violating the conditions of the truce by bringing a weapon into ape territory, the humans work desperately to save themselves while keeping peace with the apes. But the ape Koba tires of Caesar’s tolerant and pacifistic ways. Engineering a coup, Koba deposes Caesar and attacks the human settlement, setting off a war between the humans and apes!

What sounds like might be a fascinating story is bogged down in form and substance issues that absolutely crush Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The only characters who were held over from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes are ape characters and the film’s setting is engaging enough to create a compelling version of a ruined world. While the film is largely about Caesar’s character journey and the conflict between Casesar’s and Koba’s ideologies, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes devotes an excessive amount of time to putting the human characters front and center. Unfortunately, unlike the prior film in the franchise, none of the human characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes are interesting, much less compelling. In fact, the human characters are so generic that their fate is not at all engaging to watch.

The lack of compelling human characters or a truly compelling human struggle (one which, I am told on good authority, could not have happened as gasoline has an expiration date that would actually prevent people from living off old gasoline for more than three years after the apocalypse) forces viewers to watch the ape characters. That means that most of the movie, viewers are reading subtitles as the apes use sign language to communicate with one another. While this might not be a problem in general – though it is something of a waste to have so many subtitles in a big-budget special effects film - Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes comes across as somewhat ridiculous as most of the apes in the movie actually have the power of speech. When Caesar and Koba speak to human characters and react as if they understand oral communication, the film’s characters seem strange for devoting so much time to signing.

The ape characters follow unfortunately predictable arcs. From the first moment the ape encampment is shown with scrawl of the Ape Commandments (apes not killing apes being the first one), the character journey is – literally – set in stone. Part of the problem is that Caesar seems like a generic protagonist on a troubling hero journey that is assembled. He has a newborn baby and an impressionable son who is able to fall under Koba’s influence. His wife is a generic damsel in distress . . . who is mirrored by the human woman, Ellie, who seems in the film only to suddenly apply her medical knowledge to the wounded apes. Just as Caesar is manipulated by Koba, Malcolm and Dreyfus find themselves in conflict; Caesar and Malcolm are generic heroes with Koba and Dreyfus coming across as almost as generic antagonists. The thing is, all four main characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes are each working with sensible motivations that make them seem like they are working for the best interest of their people. Dreyfus and Koba have tragic flaws – fear and rage – just as the idealism of the protagonists is treated as a blind spot that limits them.

None of the actors give stellar performances in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, though the fault does not necessarily lie with the actors. The actors are given such narrow and uninspired parts that performers have little ability to show off serious range.

The writers of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have an unfortunate problem, which is that the set-up from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes leaves the franchise with the need to tell a story that is a building story. For sure, it is easier to make entertaining stories with war and destruction than nation-building and growth, which is probably why Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes degenerates into a war story. The thing is, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes could have been fine had it remained focused on the ape conflict as they organized their own, new society.

“Could have” is an accurate description of the possibility as the execution of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is troubling. In addition to having computer generated apes that have less detail and realism than in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, the direction and editing in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is disturbingly sloppy. Characters are framed in such a way that scenes begin with what appears to be only two individuals present and then reframed to include others, so characters appear out of nowhere in some of the scenes! Between that and the plodding plot progression, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is often agonizingly boring to watch.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a dismal sequel which reminds viewers just how unimpressive most sequels are.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Best Of Me
The Equalizer
Life Of Crime
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Behaving Badly
Some Velvet Morning
Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Happy Christmas
22 Jump Street
How To Train Your Dragon 2


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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