Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
After most of humanity has been wiped out by disease, a small band of survivors encounters a tribe of intellectually enhanced apes.
2 hours 10 minutes
July 11, 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa
Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Genre: Science-Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
The second installment in the revived Planet of the Apes franchise takes place ten years after the events of the first movie. After the human race has nearly been wiped out by the simian flu, Caesar’s band of genetically enhanced apes encounters a small pocket of survivors seeking to repair and use the power plant within the apes’ home.
Violence/Scary Images: Guns are used with some frequency. A pair of characters are shot at point blank range, and a small amount of blood is seen. An ape is dragged to a balcony and tossed over. There’s a large-scale battle between humans and apes where many are beaten or shot.
Language/Crude Humor: A**, h***, and b**ch are used, f*** is used once, and s*** is used somewhat frequently.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: One ape joins a pair of human men as they share a bottle of liquor.
Spiritual Content: None.
Sexual content: None.
Other Negative Content: One character is fixated on revenge, though he’s clearly a villain. Most of the characters are highly prejudiced and have a tendency to act on it.
Positive Content: Prejudice and violence are portrayed as bad.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Two opposing factions discover they need something from one another. Members of both sides advocate simply wiping out the other, while a few influential individuals insist on maintaining peace.” If you’re a habitual consumer of western media, you can probably intuit everything that happens in this movie from that description alone. In fact, you probably don’t even need to keep reading this review.
The movie’s premise is that, after most of humanity is wiped out by a disease known as the simian flu, a small city of survivors is trying to establish contact with the rest of the world. They soon encounter Caesar’s tribe of apes, who happen to be living near a run-down power plant that the humans need to survive.
There’s nothing wrong with a formulaic movie in itself. Formulas are formulas because they work. But there also needs to be something original, something that adds to the formula in a way that nothing else has. With Dawn, most of the major plot events were so predictable – and often contrived – that I found myself losing interest part way through. The tribe of apes is unique to the franchise, sure, but the fact that one side of the conflict is made up of apes doesn’t cause the plot to play out any differently than it would have if it were about two human tribes or nations. Instead of being a fresh and meaningful twist, it comes off as merely a cosmetic change.
The characters themselves are extremely hard to sympathize with. On one hand, most of the humans are stupid and evil (never just one or the other, somehow), and the actual problems that arise in the film could be easily avoided had the characters just not made dumb decisions. On the other hand, there are the stock “good guy” characters whose only purpose is to act as a foil to their short-sighted counterparts. We’re supposed to cheer for characters like Caesar and Malcolm because they’re the voices of reason, but they’re barely given any characterization outside of that.
On that note, pretty much all the characters feel static and shallow. There is very little development that I can think of. No gray areas are explored in the way the two sides view one another – everyone is always either in the right or in the wrong, and there’s never any doubt as to which is which. Whenever someone makes a poor or risky choice, it’s always because they were stupid, evil, or both, not because the character had concrete, rational reasons to do what they did. Mistrust is the only motivation anyone has for their actions, and it gets dull fast.
Later in the movie, several characters are implied to have been less noble or understanding than they initially appeared. There are two problems with this. First, it’s too little too late. Second, the hidden grudges and prejudices these characters held never have much of an effect on the story. It doesn’t add tension when a character reveals at the end that his motives were less than pure. Here, it seems like an attempt to shift away from a cut-and-dry approach to ethics – which, of course, doesn’t change the fact that the movie uses a very cut-and-dry approach to ethics.
Despite my venting, there are some bright spots. The special effects are gorgeous, and Andy Serkis once again does a magnificent job in his role as Caesar. Unfortunately, none of the film’s positives are enough to rescue it from its own shallow predictability.
Overall, this film just doesn’t have a lot going on. The pacing is often tedious. Most of the story is spent meandering toward the obvious and inevitable fighting, which we don’t have much reason to care about anyway since none of the characters are worth worrying about. Almost entirely disconnected from Rise in both its world and its events, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes feels less like its own story and more like a mere stepping stone toward an ultimate conclusion. As a result, it slots in as easily the worst entry in the Planet of the Apes franchise.
Now please excuse me. I’m not sure why, but reviewing this series made me really want a Caesar salad.
+ Strong performance by Serkis
+ Great special effects
- Shallow plot
- Shallow characters
- No fresh take on overdone themes