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Movie review: Don't monkey with 'Dawn of the Planet of The Apes'

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(2 stars out of 10)

(130 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, and strong language.)

If you had high expectations that the just-released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be as good as its mildly entertaining predecessor, the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco, prepare to be wildly disappointed.

Not that the nightmare-inducing Rise was anything spectacular, but this follow-up is nothing short of pathetically bad.

And I must warn you. I seem to be alone in my declaration of how abominably horrid this film is. Rotten Tomatoes reported a 91% approval rating among critics and 93% of movie-goers gave it a thumb up. My three other movie-going cohorts said they too enjoyed it although one fell asleep during the last 20 minutes, but amazingly (tongue firmly in cheek) woke up to completely predict the ending.

The premise is pretty simple. If you have seen the old Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes movie from 1968, you understand that somehow future Earth has had its human population replaced with evolved apes who, just by some odd chance, speak perfect English and all look like Roddy McDowall. This second attempt to reboot this series (Marky Marks 2001 attempt crashed and burned) is set in present time and explains the genesis of how apes eventually come to dominate over mankind and Charlton Heston eventually comes to yell, Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape! But do not fret; you will not see any of that in this movie (I mean the franchises storyline moved forward. Not Charlton Heston screaming. Hes dead.)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes picks up the story 10 years after Francos film. The now artificially intelligent apes have escaped their human masters and formed a commune high in the forests above San Francisco. As Hollywood would have it, they are now living in perfect harmony with nature, hunting herds of wild deer and sitting around roaring fires at night wondering about the fate of humanity. The opening credits spoiled any suspenseful unknown by showing us the over-used and now-cliche fake CNN news reports about how a simian virus wiped out 99.9% of the human population, and how the  remaining humans live in small pockets of dirt and squalor eating grubs and worms.

The apes, led by Caesar the Chimp, played admirably by Andy Serkis in a digital green suit and CGIed into his final chimp appearance in post-production, are intruded upon by some desperate humans, led by Jason Clarke, looking to re-start a power plant so they can finally plug in their iPads and MP3 players.  I am not certain if the permanent scowl that Serkis displayed throughout the movie was an acting choice or well-deserved contempt with the writing, but he should have quit with the Lord of the Rings (yes, that was a shot at The Hobbit).

As fine of actors as Jason Clarke, his love-interest Keri Russell, and his son Kodi Smit-McPhee are, nothing saves this movie from the writing. Gary Oldman, plays what else? the foil to the good guy, and is simply collecting a check here. And for the love of all things holy, why must he wear the same dated frames of glasses in every movie?  Take his character from the Batman trilogy and you have his character here.

But its not the acting that dooms this movie; its the triumvirate of horrid directing, writing, and special effects that gives this movie its amazing depth of suck.

Directed by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame (now that was a good movie), we are not given anything new to see. Shots are bland and unimaginative. If I saw one close-up of a monkey curling his lip in anger, I saw a thousand. This production may have had great sets, but no one would know since all the shots were within 20 feet. Important action sequences that moved the plot forward, however thin it was, were done with super slo-mo shots.  Why not just run a banner that says, This slo-mo shot is important to the plot. Please pay attention. Thank you?

Even more annoying was how bad the CGI was on this film, and one would think making a movie with talking apes would require some attention to the CGI. 

After such amazing films like Avatar, District 9, and any Marvel film of late, it is remarkable to me how choppy and unrealistic some shots were. The close-ups of the apes were wonderful, but it was the action shots that were confounding. The laws of physics didnt really seem to apply with regard to things that fell or moved. 

I wondered if I had an issue buying into the premise, but then realized that was not the problem at all. I am a huge fan of sci-fi. Gimme a Lord of the Rings weekend anytime. But if I am going to buy into a writers created reality, then he must still keep the natural laws of the universe in order. I mean, 500-pound gorillas cannot ride horses and a simple touch of the ear does not mean, humans are bad, have guns, and dirty hair in sign language just saying.

And the writing ugh, the writing: Hokey, cliche, predictable, mundane, and uninspiring just for starters. It took almost an hour and forty-five minutes for the inevitable battle between the humans and apes to even occur. And in the end, nothing moved forward with regard to ape vs. man. The apes went back to their wooded utopia above San Francisco and the humans celebrated their ability to produce electricity until the apes surely pulled the long extension cord back to San Francisco.

Too bad the producers did not think to do that.

I give this film 2 stars out of a possible 10.


About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!