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Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Summer Movie Stomp Down: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This summer I had three movies I was really looking forward to seeing in the theater, a box of popcorn nestled on my crotch, a bucket of Coca-Cola coursing through my veins and Sour Patch Kids powder dusting my beard like a blanket of fresh snow atop a peaceful mountain.  Those movies were Godzilla--which, as you know, I've already seen and didn't particularly enjoy--Guardians of the Galaxy, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  So excited was I to see those apes hooting, sign languaging and firing machine guns on horseback on the big screen, I bought a ticket for opening night.  I couldn't wait to see those apes!!!

So, was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes everything I hoped it would be?  And did I enjoy it sans popcorn, soda pop and sour candy (I'm on a weird diet right now and I can't have sugar and a bunch of other stuff nobody cares about)?  And why were there so many babies in my theater?  I went to a 9:40 show and there were about a thousand hours of trailers, so the movie didn't even start until super late.  Babies shouldn't be up that late, right?  My 3-year-old goes to bed at 7:15 every night.  Is that crazy?  Am I a mean dad by forcing my daughter to go to bed when the sun is still out and while certain babies in the community are getting dolled up for a night at the multiplex?  I'll answer some of those questions below.  

And, as always, be on the look-out for spoilers, if you care about that sort of thing.

3 Sentence Plot Synopsis: Most of the planet's human population has been killed off by a mysterious plague, referred to unfairly as the "simian flu."  Meanwhile, Caesar, our beloved hero chimp from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has created a peaceful society in the woods with his fellow escapees from the laboratory.  One day some humans wander into ape territory, and everything pretty much goes to shit.

Stuff I Liked

We all know the endgame here:  Earth, generally believed to be the sole property of mankind and its various corporate sponsors, will eventually belong to the apes.  There will be very few human beings left, and the majority of these survivors will work as slaves for the planet's ape overlords or live out their days dressed in animal pelts, living in caves and eating moss.  So, honestly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is pretty much a placeholder, a two-hour-and-ten-minute exercise in wheel-spinning.  But, dammit, is that wheel-spinning super fun to watch!  Don't get me wrong, there is some dark stuff going on here (most of the world's population is dead; angry monkeys with nothing to lose and access to the largest warehouse of weapons ever committed to film), but Dawn never takes itself so seriously that it turns into a relentless slog of sad, moody bullshit.  Dawn is fun!  And exciting!  It might be populated by a bunch of bland human characters you can barely care about--like a certain giant god-like lizard creature movie I could mention--but its CGI ape stars are so engaging and so brilliantly rendered, it doesn't really matter.  The hunting scene that opens the film, the man vs. ape melee in the middle of San Francisco (I'm assuming in the areas not already destroyed by Godzilla and his MUTO pals), Caesar vs. Koba atop an unfinished skyscraper--fun scenes all!  I know that seems like such a nothing description, "fun," but it's the word both myself and my movie-viewing companion used during our post film discussion, so I think it's apt.

Dawn, as I may have mentioned earlier, is fun, but it is also a really solid, great film.  And a lot of the credit for that needs to go to Andy Serkis, the motion-capture superstar responsible for Gollum and Kong from Peter Jackson's re-imagining of King Kong.  Serkis plays Caesar--as he did in Rise--and he's brilliant.  The expressiveness of this CGI chimp is amazing.  I keep pointing out the apes are CGI, but that's kind of an asshole move.  First, the CGI is really, really good.  Second, I kind of forgot I was watching apes created on a computer about ten minutes into the film.  And a lot of that comes from the superb motion capture work done by Serkis and his fellow ape stand-ins.

Adding to the fun, "c'mon-guys-don't-take-this-dark-stuff-too-seriously" attitude Dawn seems to have, is the film's score.  It's downright whimsical in places, which whisked me back to the original Apes series, but in a good way.  

Stuff I Didn't Like

Look, I completely understand that the Carter character is a catalyst for a lot, if not most, of what transpires over Dawn's 130-minutes, but that doesn't mean I still don't find him utterly nonsensical.  Mind you, I have nothing against Kirk Acevedo, the actor hired to portray Carter.  The performance is fine; Acevedo plays an asshole admirably.  It's just that, sigh, I don't know.  If Carter didn't act like/resemble the aforementioned bodily orifice so much, the Planet of the Apes might have remained a Planet of the Apes and the Few Remaining Human Beings That Didn't Die of Simian Flu Living Together in Peace.  We could've all lived in relative harmony maybe.  

Here's why I don't care for Carter and the way the movie stops making sense for using him.  [Possibly spoiler territory] Carter shoots a monkey dead fairly early in the film.  The apes, understandable, don't like this, and demand that Malcolm, TV's Felicity, Malcolm's weirdo son with an excellent taste in graphic novels, Carter and the rest of the crew leave the forest and never, ever, ever come back.  Malcolm and friends do return however, and, you guessed it, they bring Carter along.  WHAT?  There is a throwaway line about how Carter is the only person who knows how to repair a dam or something, but that doesn't even matter, because when Carter inevitably pisses Caesar off a second time, Malcolm locks Carter in the car and fixes the dam without him.  So, Carter wasn't necessary?  Wait, what?  You knew bringing him along would cause static with the apes, but you also knew he was the only dude living at the colony who could properly repair a broken dam, but then you ended up not needing him anyway?  Dumb.

And let's talk about the colony (i.e. Neo San Francisco) for a second.  I'm not super clear on what's going on over there.  Commissioner Gordon seems to be in charge, and they've got a warehouse packed to the rafters with machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks, but then, like, what does everybody do?  Every time we encounter the citizens of the colony they're all kind of just milling around in this tiny, makeshift town's square.  They don't seem to be doing anything but shuffling around, albeit with positive attitudes and smiling faces in defiance of their current situation, and bumping into one another.  There's really no place to go or, like, stores to shop in or money to have or anything.  It kind of reminded me of trying to leave the Magic Kingdom at noon to take the monorail to Epcot for lunch in Fake Germany.  No matter what time of day it is, you feel like you're the only person exiting the park.  Main Street is a nightmarish hellscape of families from all over the planet fighting, yelling, farting, spitting crumbs all over the place and snapping dumb pictures with their telephones, and you're just trying to push through and get to that schnitzel buffet.  The colony doesn't look like a swinging place to be, is what I'm trying to convey.

And I can't fault the filmmakers for this, but why did Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seem to be functioning as a beacon for parents of infants and not enough foresight to hire a babysitter?  Seriously, four to five babies in a theater at a 9:40 PM show is way too many babies.

Arbitrary Grade: B+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes vs. Edge of Tomorrow vs. Godzilla

Obviously this is better than Godzilla, because Godzilla is garbage.  It's weird, the further away I get from my Godzilla viewing experience, the more my dislike for it grows.

Because Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn't shit the bed with it's ending, I gotta put it a couple titches above Edge of Tomorrow.  Both films are engaging and easy to lose yourself in, but where Edge of Tomorrow drags a little in it's penultimate scene (the raid on the Louvre) and then completely falls to pieces at its nonsensical end, Dawn keeps an even pace and concludes satisfyingly, considering we all know what's going to eventually happen.

So, that's three down.  What next?  There are plenty of films I want to check out (Snowpiercer, They Came Together) that probably won't ever play here, so I'm thinking the next time I check in will be to discuss Guardians of the Galaxy.  They Came Together is on demand, so I may try to squeeze that one in next week.  In the meantime, just read this review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes over and over until you get dizzy and fall and hit your head on the coffee table.  Movies!

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