film reel image

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Matt Reeves
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell

There seemed to be a lot of audience participation going on during a screening I attended for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. One guy sat near the front and laughed at scenes that were not supposed to be funny. Another guy sitting near me, actually fell asleep for twenty minutes and preceded to snore loudly. Then there was someone who sat in the back and uttered things that made no sense throughout the film's most pivotal scenes. Myself, well I kept looking at my phone (I don't wear a watch so I kept checking the time) because a majority of "Dawn's" running time plodded along while recycling the same screenplay (which contains themes of authority, status, and governorship) over and over again.

Listen, even after eight movies in the Planet of the Apes franchise have ventured into theaters, humans and hunched over, furry creatures still just can't seem to get along. Oh and I almost forgot, their own kind for some reason, can't see eye to eye either. In this 2014 release containing a large dose of bland, straightforward storytelling undercut with battle scenes borrowed from Saving Private Ryan, the apes grovel and fight with each other till no end (the violence is of the gore-free, PG-13 variety but it still stings).

Containing at times, one of the most annoying musical scores in many a moon, featured as a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes with almost none of that film's returning cast members, and harboring sequences showing gun-toting apes riding wild horses (giddyup!), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reverts to scenes depicting the aftermath of ten years later. In San Francisco, a virus called ALZ-113 infected humans causing their way of life to almost come to an end. In present day, apes are on one side of said city and said (leftover) humans are on the other. The two sides, trying to refrain from starting an all out war, somehow meet to power up a hydroelectric dam set to better San Fran's power generation abilities. The humans, who live in a sort of dystopian future, form a group of leaders led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who believes in saving the human race while forgetting the apes, and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who wants only peace and overall equality from the two sides. 

Now "Dawn" with its lush, dark direction by Mark Reeves (he shot 2008's Cloverfield) and its strong cast, still left me feeling uninterested. It's obviously well made but at times, lacks any adage of genuine thrills, suspense, or perilousness. Also, I miss the old movies in this franchise where the apes almost looked human and spoke perfect English. "Dawn'" and the previously released Rise of the Planet of the Apes (from 2011), feature apes that well, look almost exactly like apes. They communicate mostly with sign language and speak minimal dialogue (an example would be one of them spouting the line, "Apes! Together, strong!"). And now as a result, the novelty attached to what's on screen in general, is wearing thin with me. The old ones were tongue and cheek with a smidgen of dark humor. The new ones come off as a little boring and almost too serious.

The acting is decent enough even though some of the characters fade in and out of the proceedings. Gary Oldman's Dreyfus is a variation and it piggybacks on his RoboCop performance from February. Nobody wines and winces with his line readings quite like Gary Oldman. Then we have Keri Russell giving a deep, subtle performance as nurse Ellie, a strong woman who grieves the loss of her child from the previous epidemic. Her role is somewhat undeveloped but it's surely no fault of her own. Head ape Caesar is played by Andy Serkis and he's just fine donning the costume and nailing the operatic mannerisms. That leaves Mr. Jason Clarke outgunning everybody with an amazing screen presence and courtliness as a sympathetic figure in Malcolm. He was brooding and intense in 2012's Zero Dark Thirty and he sure does shine here as well.

In conclusion, a mixed review is as much praise as I can give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I liked the creative opening title sequence, the opening zoom out shot, and the first set of minutes that felt like they came out of the silent film era. But as successful and long running as these films are, I find myself watching the same one over and over again. Evolution says that we came from apes (Darwin to be exact). You'd think that our species and their species could I don't know, at least try to cohabitate. Some much for that. As expected, "Dawn" leaves the door open yet again for an inevitable sequel (or prequel or whatever). I have a couple of suggestions for working titles: Growing Tired of the Planet of the Apes and Have Had Quite Enough of the Planet of the Apes. Slammer!

Written by Jesse Burleson

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