Guns don’t kill people. Monkeys with guns kill people. The highly-anticipated sequel to the 2011 prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, takes place ten years after the events of the first film. Life has pretty much sucked for the humans since they created and successfully infected themselves with the Simian flu. The virus is a twist of irony, originally designed to cure terminal disease in humans. Civilized life as we know it now is pretty much dead and gone. If you’re seeing this film without watching Rise, you’ll be a little lost, but there aren’t any huge jumps in logic you need to make to understand Dawn. The introductory sequence of Dawn does a decent job of filling us in what happened logistically, but we really get no feeling of empathy for what happens to the humans because we come in ten years after the outbreak has occurred – something that we can probably assume was done on purpose.
The main difference between the films is that in Rise, you cheered for the apes the entire time. The evil humans tortured and experimented on the apes, and the apes wanted nothing but to be free and left alone. This isn’t like Deep Blue Sea, where the experimented sharks became expert-level human hunters. No, things are not so black and white in Dawn, which is what makes the film so great. The culmination of action is a slow-building process, comprised of bad decisions and miscommunications that make complete logical sense as they unfold, but still give you the gut-wrenching feeling as they happen. It only takes one bad seed to spoil a whole bunch, something that both sides become guilty of. Knowing the truth as a member of the audience and not being able to do anything about it is the toughest part of watching the film; you just want the good guys to win.
Visually, Dawn is completely awing. We get a great look into the life that the apes have built for themselves. Their culture is thriving, there are litters of young ones roaming around, and there is a noticeable group dynamic between the community (and some straight-up frightening war paint). Dawn was filmed using a combination of live-action stunts, CGI and motion-capture suits, giving it a very realistic look. In fact, a lot of the stunts were overseen by former Cirque du Soleil gymnast, Terry Notary.
Caesar, the same leader from Rise, has unanimously been given the crown of, well, Caesar. Among him are his most trusted friends, Maurice the Orangoutang, Rocket (a bully turned second in command), and Koba (the ugliest, most jaded SOB in the land). The apes stick to their side of the Golden Gate bridge – which we can only assume is Oakland. Caesar has seen the good in humans and has a much more well-rounded understanding of them than apes who had been tortured their whole lives by scientists. This difference of opinion thereafter becomes the dividing line between the apes, and is ultimately what mucks everything up.
What makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes such a compelling story is that it borrows elements from several other classic stories. There is an amazing parallel to the story of Julius Caesar, which was referenced briefly in the first film. The great commander was victim to the betrayal of his closest when blind ambition superseded the logic and strategy of the current leadership. He was struck down so that a new era could begin – the Roman Empire. Whether or not Caesar in the film fulfills the prophecy of the Ides of March, you’ll have to watch to find out. The archetypal story influence doesn’t end there, though. Dawn borrows elements from other classical animal stories, notably Animal Farm, The Lion King and The Fox and the Hound.
To keep the apes with the greatest amount of civility, Caesar creates basic rules to live by, the strongest rule being “Ape not kill ape,” which is strikingly familiar to Animal Farm’s “No animal shall kill any other animal.” Everybody is a fan of the life that Caesar’s spoils have wrought, but become sheep under the more ambitious and “passionate” apes who want to imprison and torture the humans. With deception and, really propaganda, the humans become the target, and the peaceful ways of Caesar (Snowball in Animal Farm) are only as strong as his position in leadership. There is, of course, more development in the book, but it looks like things could easily get to that point in the third film, set to premiere in two years with Reeves repeating as director. Let’s just say that the end of the movie is far from the harmonious ending we wish we had as a viewer (we do know that, in the end of either Dawn and Animal Farm , things don’t necessarily work out for us humans).
The most emotion I felt during Dawn were the scenes that reminded me of how I felt watching Disney movies as a kid. The Lion King references are more visual than anything, but it’s certainly arguable that there are some plot similarities, too. There is a particular seen that made me scream “Scar!!” in the theater. For those that saw Rise, you will be getting those nostalgic pains that Fox and the Hound did. The whole time, I just wished that we could go back to the time when Caesar was causing havoc with James Franco, before the Simian flu, before the all out war between humans and primates. I miss the good old days. Or if I couldn’t have that, I just wanted to go back to the beginning so we could watch the apes in their own civilization. The entire movie could have done without humans altogether. Specifically Gary Oldman, who basically reprises his role of Commissioner Gordon, but a complete jerk, and his desperation causes more grief than it does solve problem.
Clocking in at just over two hours, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is briskly-paced and each event naturally progresses the story. There was never a time I had to wonder how much time was left, or how long it had been. This is a heavily under-appreciated quality in a movie, and if you just sat through the latest Transformers movie, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Dawn was able to keep me engaged throughout the film, and it was largely due to the great ambiance of a post-apocalyptic world where desperation leads to a series of realistic pitfalls. The tremendous acting by Caesar’s Andy Serkis and company sell what has been the greatest movie of the year thus far. In 2014, Apes rule, and I’m okay with that.
Genre – Fantasy
Director – Peter Jackson
Cast – Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly
Alluring element – Based off J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit
Check it out if you liked – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Let me preface by stating that I am not the biggest Tolkien nerd ever. I do, however, enjoy his work immensely. The first book my mother and I read together was The Hobbit. I can remember being terrified for Bilbo while he was caught in the giant spider’s web. I have read it a dozen times since, most recently last year with my son. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in middle-school and thoroughly enjoyed all three films. On a scale of LOTR nerdiness, on a scale of Bilbo to Aragorn, I put myself at a Gimli. I am no where as nerdy as my poet buddy, Ken Arkind, who went to visit the actual Shire in New Zealand last year. I was thrilled when MGM announced a Hobbit film, but was deflated when I found out that it would be a three-part franchise. The LOTR books average 400 pages apiece. My son’s leather- bound copy of The Hobbit is exactly 276 pages long. It’s mathematically impossible to make a trilogy of three hour films from so few pages, unless you have filler – and filler, there is.
This is not to say that I completely disliked the film. Its run time of 161 minutes is entirely too long, but there are some gems that allow us to enjoy the wonderment of Middle-earth. Not to mention that it earned $73.6 million in its opening, although this is a drop from the first hobbit movie.
We are almost immediately whisked into the story where we left off in An Unexpected Journey. Our dwarves are still accompanied by a wizard, who looks remarkably like Magneto, and an unlikely burglar, Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is played by the always entertaining Martin Freeman. The dwarves draw closer to Erebor, the lost dwarf mountain. The treasure of their conquered home is guarded by Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon. Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan!!!) pulled double duty, voicing the Godzilla-like flying lizard and the Necromancer. The real jewel of the dwarf vault is a most priced possession, the Arkenstone. Our dwarf leader, Thorin Oakenshield, plans to reclaim his bling and slay the dragon.
Our protagonists are still being hunted by Orcs. These grotesque brutes are merciless in their hunt for dwarf blood, but they are overplayed, and if you are like me you look forward to their appearance only to see how creative our heroes can be when they kill them. Since they pose no real threat, it’s hard to feel anxiety during battle sequences. There is one exception, the river-barrel ride from Mirkwood. Our short-of-stature heroes escape elven captivity and take a Universal Studios-like roller coaster ride downstream while being pursued by Orcs. They kill the Goblins effortlessly and almost to a rhythm. At times it feels more like a video-game than movie, but the sequence is whimsical and fun. I literally laughed a few times at its outrageousness. It had the same feel of the dinner party clean-up scene at Biblo’s from the first film. The dwarves are the stars of this film and deservedly so.
“How does my hair look?”
Speaking of elves, Tauriel (Elf for eye-candy), played by fanboy favorite Evangeline Lilly is the best and worst thing about the film. First of all, she is a certified dime-piece. When she first appeared, I almost forgot what movie I was watching. The character was created to add a love interest to our metro-sexual elven archer Legolas. And we need this to our classic tale because, “Who wants to watch a movie about a bunch of dudes lost in the woods?” But there’s a twist – Tauriel seems to have a Keebler-sized crush on the dwarf warrior Kili. This pisses Legolas off…a lot. This subplot is lost on me. Does a big budget film have to build an emotional investment in it’s audience? Yes. But does it have to lose integrity by adding meaningless romance arcs? No.
“C’mon, you realize he is like 4ft tall right?”
Any guesses as to what Gandalf is doing? If you said, wandering off on his own and getting captured you get a gold star. This angle is boring and unnecessary. He gets locked up every movie. Clearly he needs a Get-Out-Of-Mordor free card. The Necromancer theme is also overplayed and dull. We are all well aware that the middle movie in a trilogy is doomed from the start, but simplifying this film may have actually made it more enjoyable to the average movie-goer.
Where is my Hobbit?! You know, the cheeky little fellow with a big heart and hairy feet? The obsessive compulsive kleptomaniac with the ring of power? There and Back Again? It seems like our true hero was forgotten about, lost in a script filled with bully Orcs and pretentious elves. A huge draw to The Hobbit as a bookis the idea of a small person making a big difference. Bilbo inspires us and we need him to save the day.
There he is, in the best scene in the film, deep within Erebor face to snout with a dragon. Let me add that Martin Freeman adds credibility to this film with pure skill. He is as much Bilbo Baggins as we could hope for. The introduction of Smaug is amazing. He lays in dwarf gold like a crocodile in still water. He emerges in fantastic fashion. He is death on wings. Four stories tall with skin like metal. Peter Jackson sure does know how to do monsters well. As Bilbo has an epic showdown with the beast we are fearful for the Lake town of Dale, a human fishing port. Smaug had once burned this tiny village, and if his wrath is unleashed again there is no telling what is possible.
“Where is Khaleesi when you need her?”
The film is entertaining, but about 45 minutes too long. Your little hobbits may not make it all the way through without a potty break, but it’s a great holiday movie for the family. Tolkien purists will hate it. There is too much emphasis on the city of Dale, too little emphasis on our hobbit, and a lot of “meh” time. The casual nerd will debate with their friends about the height of a hobbit and the color of Orlando Bloom’s hair. Overall you will enjoy the adventure and hopefully pick up the book again, just as I did, and read these most important words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”