Advancement, Daybreak, Construction, Erection…
In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) led an ape revolution after being subjected to Will Rodman’s (James Franco) miracle Alzheimer’s drug. At the beginning of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, multiple newsreels explain that most of humanity has been wiped out by an apocalypse-level flu epidemic — conveniently caused by that same drug.
The apes live in peace in Muir Woods. Humans live in a dense colony on the San Francisco Peninsula. The two come into contact when the humans, within two weeks of running out of power, try to restart a hydroelectric dam in the apes’ woods. In a bizarre combination of un-Sign Language and broken English, the apes demand the humans stay on their side of the bridge. But they can’t do that, because electricity.
There’s knowing how the story will go, then there’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve genuinely had less predictable experiences reciting the alphabet. Every dramatic moment is telegraphed.
As the apes allow humans, including one who had already fired on them, into their home and Koba (Toby Kebbell) becomes more and more belligerent, the movie decends into a tedious, calculable cycle of heartwarming trust and unsurprising betrayal. How can a film affect a viewer’s heart when it cannot affect their mind? How can a person be entertained by something so painfully expectable?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes carries itself like a powerful statement against racism and war that doesn’t have clear good guys and bad guys, but it is absolutely none of those things.
The film isn’t powerful. It’s just liberal and extremely melodramatic.
Peace is good! And guns are bad! And isolationism is good! And war is bad! And humans are bad because they use too much
oil electricity! And animals are good because they live as they did in the garden! Well, these apes don’t in any way, shape or form, but… whatever, animals!
The film doesn’t break down racism with its character setup — one peaceful ape and one peaceful human, Caesar and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) against one pre-emptive ape and one pre-emptive human, Koba and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) — and it definitely doesn’t avoid offering clear answers. There is a stark black and white morality at play here, and the black is very red-ish and the white is very blue-ish. It’s quite off-putting.
Characters mention several times that humans have destroyed themselves — that massive flu epidemic was going to happen anyway, I guess — or tend to destroy themselves through war. The whole thing is supposed to be an allegory for the latter malady.
But it’s really an allegory for how poor communication can cause war. The movie wants to evoke Shakespeare in magnitude, but it succeeds in evoking Shakespeare’s reliance on miscommunication and stupidity as plot devices.
The film exacerbates its own flaws more and more as it goes on into a 131-minute runtime. The final sequence is over the top like a 1980s hair band. Of course, they have a grotesque shot at the end with an American flag, just so everyone knows this is all about ‘Murica.
Films have two jobs — entertain and tell a good story. Dawn/Planet/Apes does neither. Skip it and do something less forseeable — like looking up last year’s sporting results, or counting.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Seriously, what order do S, R and T come in? For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.