Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Okay, so if you've been following my review schedule, you may have seen that I was originally going to review Lucy this week. Well for the foreseeable future, I'm not going to be seeing that movie any time soon. Why? It looks like pure sci-fi dreck. It has a dumb premise, even dumber execution, and has logic so far removed from reality with stupid and poor reasoning that there's no way in hell that I'm going to sit through that movie. I don't want to see movies that I know I'm going to hate just for the giggles. I want to see movies that are smart, adventurous, have a sense of passion and life to them, and most importantly, aren't dumb as shit. So instead, I'm going to watch a movie where monkeys ride horses and dual-wield machine guns.

Dawn takes place 10 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and essentially the world has started to destroy itself because of the outbreak of simian flu. Humans are dying off en masse and only the apes are surviving. It's gotten to the point where most major cities are overrun by nature, allowing the apes to become more dominant over the planet. Caesar is now the leader of a hyper advanced faction of apes that are now discovering how to speak English, and are living their lives in relative peace and far away from humans. When a faction of humans arrive at their village to convince them to use a nearby dam for electricity, a war soon begins that will threaten not only humanity, but possibly the apes' society as well.

Dawn is a movie that is damned proud of its special effects. Instead of having huge explosions and giant action set pieces, all of the budget is used for giving each of the apes fluid motions and great textures. Ever ape in the movie is shown through CGI, but they're integrated so well that it's hard to even tell that they're fake. If Pacific Rim was the best example of CGI done right last year, then Dawn is this year's golden child, showing special effects that one would only dream of five years ago. It's amazing to watch, especially in IMAX.

Now that's a powerful screenshot
I want to make it perfectly clear right now that I enjoyed this movie. I thought that as a whole, it was an enjoyable ride that gave me exactly what I wanted; monkeys being badass and a movie that follows the legacy of the Planet of the Apes series. It's good... That being said, why does this movie need to exist? If there was anything about this movie that bugged me, it's that throughout the entire run of the movie, I didn't care about anything I was watching. Everything I saw just made me feel empty and didn't resonate with me. None of the characters, besides Caesar, struck a chord with me in any memorable way.

Why is that you may ask? Well it's because Dawn is a prequel, but not just a prequel, a sequel to a prequel to Planet of the Apes. While this may seem like a tangent, I'm not really a fan of prequels because of how limiting they can be. When doing a prequel, it's always tricky to find the right balance of adding new material, but not stretching the new material out unnecessarily. It's a bit difficult to explain, so let me give you an example. In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace was a prequel that gave more history behind Anakin and Obi-Wan, and fundamentally that's all you needed. All it needed to do was expand a few character's backstories and provide enough hints at events to come, like Palpatine being elected as the Supreme Chancellor. Say what you will about everything else in the prequel trilogy (Oh God you can say a lot about the prequel trilogy), but in theory, the point of it was to expand the backstories of a few characters and show what led to the events of the first movie. That's what a prequel should do. It should establish the building blocks of the series in small enough doses to satisfy our curiosity, but not overstaying its welcome and drag out the plot with irrelevant tangents. I fear that Dawn has fallen into the same pitfalls as the Star Wars prequels, though the Planet of the Apes prequels are infinitely better than all of the prequel trilogy of Star Wars.

Some people may disagree with me on that, but that's understandable. After all, Dawn was still a great movie and it shouldn't matter if the plot barely advanced at all as long as we got some great scenes and character moments. Let me ask you this though. What was gained from this movie that helped to bridge the gap between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the original Planet of the Apes? What did this movie accomplish to expand the mythos of the series? You can essentially throw out all of the human characters, since we know that they'll all die before the beginning of the original movie, and the major events shown in the movie like the Siege of Los Angeles are very minor cliffnotes in the franchise as a whole. Bottom line, this movie doesn't accomplish anything besides expanding upon the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

These humans are so screwed
"BUT WAIT" I hear some of you cry out, "Isn't this supposed to be a reboot of the franchise and not a prequel to the original?" To an extent, yes you are right that this is technically a reboot, but let's be honest her for a second. If this was a reboot, then it'd be in the same veins as the awful Tim Burton Planet of the Apes reboot. It would be a movie that has the same plot as the original, but with a few changes and creative liberties sprinkled throughout the story. Here, you can't not say that this is a prequel to the original movie. It takes place 1000 years before the original and shows how the apes take control of Earth. Hell, that's why it's called Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It implies that it is the beginning of something, hinting at what is to come when we eventually reach the titular planet filled with apes. It's a prequel series AND a reboot series.

Getting back on track now, Rise was a perfect movie to serve as a prequel to Planet of the Apes. It showed how the apes gained intelligence and how humanity was slowly going to fall. It showed the apes beginning their crawl towards the top of the food chain, and that's all that was needed. We don't need to see every little detail about how the apes got to the top of the food chain because we already know what happens when we get there and we want to see that. We want to see Ape City and monkeys becoming super technological scientists and humans being reduced to stupid creatures with no intelligence or powers to speak. I want to see that, not the apes in villages putzing around.

Again, the be fair, the movie is great in all regards. The one action scene in the movie is intense and heart pounding, all of the characters has a lot of emotion and power behind their actions, and this will probably be the only time that people can feel sad for a monkey one second and outright terrified by them the next. Seriously, these monkeys do some horrendous and unspeakable actions in the two hour run time, though most of it is through Caesar's right hand ape Koba, who is a terrifying and hate fueled monster that will stop at nothing to kill all of the humans and rule the apes with an iron fist. He's scary.

I just want this to be made clear; even though I feel that Dawn is a movie that doesn't need to exist, I'm glad it does. It's a great blockbuster that has just enough heart and intelligence to it that it can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone. It has action, it has hope, it has despair, it has comedy, it has tragedy, it has everything that a good movie should have, mostly because it is a good movie. My only concern with the movie is that nothing I'm watching matters in the grand scheme of things. The events between Rise and Planet of the Apes is over 1000 years, so nothing that I'm seeing is relevant in the end. Caesar will eventually die, Cornelius will rule the apes, and shit will go down when Charlton Heston pimps onto the planet. It's all going to happen, so I feel disconnected with what I'm seeing.

I want a poster of this. NOW.
My own personal gripes aside, you should definitely go see this movie. Everyone else thinks that this movie is a masterpiece, and I can see why. It's better than most movies that have come out this year so far, and it's pretty enjoyable and thought provoking at the same time. People have said it's just as good as other summer blockbusters like The Dark Knight, and while I won't go that far, it's still really enjoyable and has a few "Hell Yeah!" moments inside of it. If you can, go see this in IMAX, because this is a movie that you want to see in as fine detail as possible. Seriously, the technical chops of this movie make it a must see on its own. The apes may eventually take over the world, but as long as they're riding on horses with machine guns through walls of fire, I'm okay with it.


Besides, we all know dogs will take over the world anyway.

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