Movie Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with Josh and Søren

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Josh’s Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not the “savior of the summer of 2014,” and I wonder if the people praising it as such have actually been to the theater in the past couple months. As long as we’re comparing, it has none of the visual sophistication of Godzilla and completely lacks the wit of Edge of Tomorrow. I’d go on, but you get the point.

It’s not the best sequel ever made, though it does improve marginally on its predecessor. It suffers for having an identical structure to Rise, veering between awful expository dialogue and ham-handed homage to the earlier films in the franchise. As to the latter, watch a trailer for Battle, Conquest, or Escape: they’re all selling the exact same beats.

Dawn works in fits and starts, but oh, what fits and starts they are! Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell are both brilliant as Caesar and Koba. Koba may be the year’s best villain; his Shakespearean scheming breathes life into the film’s grim and straight-faced narrative. The simplicity of his motivations is nice, but I can’t help but wonder if the film would’ve benefitted from making him less aggressive and more fearful to mirror the villainy of some of the humans. There’s plenty of human/ape paralleling going on, but Koba’s rage-filled persona doesn’t have a direct counterpart.

It doesn’t help that all the humans put together aren’t as compelling as any one of the apes. I’ll give the film this, though: the special effects are, and I can say this without hyperbole, the best I’ve ever seen in any film. I just wish the film underneath was a little more substantial.

Movie Verdict: Meh
Score: 60%

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Søren’s Review

I was perturbed by Franco’s ho-hum performance as scientist Will Rodman in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Nevertheless, his connection to Caesar as a caretaker and as a researcher was an important anchor for the film’s central drama. Similarly, John Lithgow’s struggle with Alzheimer’s was moving because it was personal, and it helped bolster the struggle over whether it is fair to sacrifice ape freedom for human health.

These elements offered perspective on the conflict between humans and apes that made both sides seem reasonable in their own right. Conversely, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes away any personal connection to the humans. The result is a work that feels oddly lopsided: beautiful ape drama tainted regularly by the banality of their primate cousins. As a sequel, it might up the stakes on effects and glitter, but it ultimately fails in ways its predecessor did not.

I love when filmmakers bring out the human element in characters because it inspires empathy from the audience. But unfortunately, this trick only manifests itself in Caesar and his clan. Intrigue dissipates as it radiates outward from there and the humans are, ironically, left out to pasture.

Movie Verdict: Meh
Score: 70%

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Podcast Review

The following podcast is an in-depth discussion of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Naturally, this includes spoilers about the film’s plot, score, characters, and cinematography. You can listen to the podcast via the player below, download it here, or subscribe via iTunes. Enjoy!

Final Verdict: Meh
Score: 65%

What did you think? Were you satisfied by the film’s dramatic build? Or did the forgettable characters leave you cold? Leave a comment and let us know!

This podcast uses clips from the song Test Drive by Zapac / CC BY-NC 3.0.

  • Patrick Murphy

    Quick nitpick (pun may-or-may-not be intended) – Judy Greer didn’t play Cornelia in Rise. She replaced ballet dancer, Devyn Dalton.

    I have now seen this movie a fair few times, and talked about it with a few people, so here a few assorted thoughts.

    Talking about it with Brendan and looking at the trailers, I can tell that there was A LOT that was cut out of this movie, on both the human and ape sides. Not enough to give Cornelia a bigger role unfortunately, but still. Oh, and while the apes in the original series did have a caste system, it was species-based, not gender based. Bizarrely, there’s reason to believe that the apes in that movie didn’t have fixed gender roles – maybe because they’re too focused on species. But the main ape character in the original PotA is the female chimp – the animal psychologist, Dr. Zira, played perfectly by actress Kim Hunter. So it’s really sad that the film seems to have forgotten its roots.

    The whole thing with the dam to me wasn’t about an energy crisis thing, it’s more about the idea that humans are trying to regain something of, “the power,” that they used to have, which Gary Oldman drives home with his rousing speech to the humans. Which does kind of work if we talk about this conflict between the apes and the humans as a power struggle, and power can be represented a couple different ways – with knowledge, with electrical power, and with weapons.

    Where will the sequel pick up? Brendan and I are HOPING – hoping mind you – that the next film will not focus on the inevitable massive war between the humans and the apes, but instead picks up with the aftermath, and the attempts of the surviving parties to pick up the pieces and move on.

    The more times I saw this movie, the less I liked all the humans. It reached the point where I was saying to myself, “Oh, human bit? Bathroom time!” The dialogue was painful to listen to at points. Like, them pointing at the colony on fire and proclaiming, “Look, the colony’s on fire,” in the most bored voice possible. A lot of the reviews claim that there’s a balance regarding sympathies toward both factions, but this just isn’t true. It has that illusions because there aren’t as many outright jackass characters as in Rise, but that’s just because these humans are so damn flat. We don’t have any out-right reason to beg for their demise, but we still know much more about and care much more about the apes. I agree with Soren on Carver’s completely inexplicable hatred for the apes. Sure, I can believe that something happened to him that would make him terrified of apes, but at that point we’re just making stuff up. The movie never bothers to get into that because of how little it cares about the humans, so we’re just left with a plot-contrived assface. As Soren mentioned on our viewing, Elle’s character is just not thought out at all – she works for the CDC, but has training as a surgeon? Again, not impossible, but it’s more likely the result of lazy writing than anything else. And yeah, a primatologist – preferably female as a reference to Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey – would make a much more interesting/plausible character in these movies. The only people who have any business interacting with non-human apes, are the humans who study them. And I know for a fact that zoologists can make absolutely awesome characters.

    I really like Caesar’s character in this movie because it is about the inner struggle between human and ape. He grew up with humans and pretty much lived as one for most of his life. Andy Serkis has even gone on record as basing his performance off of a chimp who spent his entire life around humans. Now he’s living with apes and has to learn how to work with them to make this society. They may all have increased intelligence, but they still retain a lot of the social structure from their animalistic days. So I can understand how strange it is seeing Caesar go….wait for it….ape shit on Koba, but this is something he has to do as an ape. He’s had to learn when to be more like an ape, and when to be more like a human. Caesar in Rise was kinder, but in order to lead these apes, he had to become harder.