Friday, July 11, 2014
Movie Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Something happened that I never thought possible as I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I caught myself wishing I was watching Tim Burton's stupid, boneheaded 2001 Planet of the Apes with Marky Mark. And that was the movie that was so awful that it killed off the franchise for a decade, causing it to be rebooted by Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).
The Burton Planet of the Apes was so devastating that it managed to scare people away from seeing the remake of the remake a decade later. Which was a shame, because Rise was one of the best sci-fi movies ever created, with a heartbreaking father-son, scientist-monkey relationship.
There was so much promise to this movie. So much hope dashed. I tried to ignore the colossal red flag it waved in the first 10 minutes, as mediocrely-animated primates engaged in family drama by exchanging adorable, Monkey's Uncle-style sign language, helpfully subtitled so non ASL (Ape Sign Language)-speaking human viewers could follow along. The verbiage-free opening is so patently ridiculous that if the Scary Movie people were to, well, ape it, they wouldn't need to change a thing. Just cut, paste, and wham, you have the funniest sequence in franchise history.
Things go from bizarrely humorous to boring when the scene shifts to the human camp of this post-apocalyptic earth, a stage for a tournament of global domination between man and monkey. There's a timid leader, a regular joe, his compassionate, monkey-paw-stroking wife and their teenage son played by a guy who looks like he's 30. They want to preserve the human way of life, which according to them is to sit around and whine about having no electricity.
I give the movie credit for not only not encouraging the audience to root for the humans, but to make a compelling case to wholeheartedly cheer for the apes to overthrow these idiots and run the planet correctly. That even goes for when Scar Ape (his name is Koba, but he is really Scar from The Lion King, so I have renamed him Scar Ape) overthrows simian leader with a heart of gold Caesar and runs things like Pacino in Scarface.
The crux of the conflict is a dam that the humans need to get working so they can use their iPads and such. The apes, meanwhile, have set up camp nearby, and would rather the humans not send in their Geek Squad to fix it because of their penchant for busting caps in angry apes. Caesar, who in the first movie fell in love with humans because he was buddies with James Franco, thinks there can be a peaceful resolution, but Scar Ape is like "ARGHH OOOPP IPPPA EEA!" which roughly translates to "'Ell, nah, gov'na. Kill 'em all."
Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, who deserved credit in his calling card for going easy on the CGI, forgets that tack and allows his animators to spray the screen with dubious monkey cartoons and 'splosions. The movie turns into a long, dull slog of slow-witted humans tangling with their furry rivals in zero-sum contest of sadness. There are a few winning moments of intraspecies bonding that echo the 2011 movie, but those seem glib and forced rather than earned. Also, I hate how the apes all start off relying on sign language, only to suddenly all gain the ability so speak English like they are the Asian characters from Lost. As if it wasn't bad enough that we had to listen to the dull, hackneyed dialogue spat out by the human characters, it gets much worse when we have to listen to it spout from the mouths of apes as well.
A movie of half measures, spoiled potential, little suspense and tired writing, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has me Done with the Planet of the Apes. At least until the 2001 version pops up again on SyFy channel or whatever it's called these days.
Starring Ande Serkis, Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell and Toby Kebbell. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.