Hollywood sure picked a weird week to spread the doom and gloom. Two-thirds of this week's column is dedicated to post-apocalyptic hellscapes yet to come, while the remaining third explores a waking nightmare happening right now, in your own town, on your own computer! First up, Sean "Keanu Grieves" Hanson feels an air of defeat in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the hit film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which itself is a reboot of the original Planet of the Apes. Then, Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade rides the rails of ecstasy on a train called Snowpiercer. Finally, guest contributor g0m takes a wild guess at things that occur in the Irish import Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie. Nothing but the best for our lovely readers.
EXPECTATIONS: Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a bit of a miracle. Here was a decades-old series about men yelling things from inside their simian getups and Roddy McDowall yelling back; from the ashes of that (and a mediocre Tim Burton remake), we got a melancholy thriller about friendship and cruelty. Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have returned with a sequel set a few years into the future, after the fall of mankind - not exactly the perfect setting for another intimate epic starring James Franco.
REALITY: More often than not, science fiction has a political goal. Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked overtime to get us to care about the victims of animal testing so we could cheer when the apes broke free of their cages and revolted. Yeah, it was shamelessly manipulative, but when was the last time subtlety was a key feature of an action blockbuster? Oh, right: Godzilla. Anyway, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is equally manipulative, but with a muddier goal; as I was watching the film, I struggled to piece together exactly what it's trying to say, and I'm at a loss.
"Everyone's wearing CGI. How did I get stuck with the trashbag?"
Dawn begins with a montage explaining what happened after Rise: A simian virus borne from the genetic modification that gave certain apes the power of speech has wiped out most of the human population while the apes, still led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have carved out a peaceful, primitive civilization in the forests of Northern California. They organize meetings and hunting parties. They value peace. In a maddeningly undeveloped detail, they've chiseled what appears to be the First Commandment for apes into a giant rock. This is the best part of the film for anyone with even a passing interest in anthropology, and it's short.
As the wise orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) observes, they haven't seen humans in two years. Quicker than you can say exposition, humans arrive in the ape camp: Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell), Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Foster (Jon Eyez) and Carver (Kirk Acevedo), who have traveled from San Francisco to get the O'Shaughnessy Dam operational. Their arrival etches fissures in each faction. Among the apes, Caesar sees a possibility for reconciliation with humans while Koba (Toby Kebbell), so abused by his handlers in Rise, adopts a militantly anti-human stance. Conversely, Malcolm and Ellie see peace with the apes where Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the acting mayor of San Francisco, sees the potential for conflict.
NO GIRLS ALLOWED IN THE TREEFORT EXCEPT FOR MY WIFE!From that, I hope you can see why Dawn is a step down from Rise. Everything's just a little bit sloppier. The human characters in Rise had two names; here, they only have one - and, following the Aliens rule, it's comically easy to guess how they'll figure into the plot by whether it's their first name or their last. Rise played on contemporary anxieties; Dawn's concerns are theoretical or historical and endemic to every faction throughout history. Women didn't have a whole lot to do in Rise; they have even less to do in Dawn, relegated to staying behind and playing mommy to children who aren't even theirs. (Also, I don't think the female apes in Rise wore jewelry to designate their gender.)
You might think it's a little unfair to judge a sequel so harshly against its predecessor, but note that Dawn inherits its strengths from Rise. While I'm sure Dawn is enjoyable on its own and there's deft exposition to bring uninitiated viewers up to speed, Rise is still Dawn's wellspring and template. The unusual amount of detail given to computer-rendered characters, the 3:1 ratio of rising action to actual action, the shockingly violent scene at the turning point, the scenes that would be utterly ridiculous if the film hadn't earned them & all of that comes from Rise. This film's only original strength is the inclusion of sympathetic villains, painting conflict between humans and apes as the unfortunate result of competing interests, relativism and painful memories of past abuses.
Man, what a dickhead.But, gradually, Dawn begins to shed even that, until we're left with a film that's only a little smarter and a little more compelling than the average tentpole action flick. Dawn is worth the price of admission, peppered with moments of beauty and wonder, but the most frustrating film is one that falls a few yards short of greatness. The elements are there, the talent is there (Serkis, especially, turns in another fantastic motion-capture performance while Oldman channels The Mosquito Coast-era Harrison Ford for some weird reason), but Dawn is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Here's hoping the already-announced sequel will ditch the whole "humans vs. apes" thing in favor of "apes use sign language to hammer out a religious text and argue over water rights." In the presence of talking apes, human bullshit just isn't that interesting. That's arguably the most important notion of this ridiculous premise - strange, then, how quickly they abandon that notion here.
|Delivering on the Promise of Rise||7/10|
MINORITY REPORT: As much of a welcome surprise as Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, I still can't say I honestly care how or why the apes took over the planet. Just skip to Day of the Planet of the Apes and set the whole thing in a salt mine. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade
This is not my jury summons!
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