Call it Gorillas in the Mist – With Machine Guns! Yes, from the giant Xerox copier known as Hollywood comes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the latest installment in the interminable Planet of the Apes franchise. Franchise. That’s a strange term for a line of movies, but it actually makes sense when analogizing movies to fast food. Fast food franchisees keep churning out those thin, greasy, gray, mystery meat patties with the wilted lettuce, skinny slices of tomato and pickle and that savory “special sauce” made of plastic. Hollywood keeps churning out its cinematic equivalent. Except this cheesy quarter pounder of a movie cost $170 million bananas and not a dime of it went into the script . . .
I suppose that sooner or later Dawn will be followed by Day of the Planet of the Apes, Revenge of the Planet of the Apes, Return of the Planet of the Apes and eventually by The Return of the Revenge of Planet of the Apes Strikes Back Part II, because that’s the way Hollywood rolls. Or re-rolls.
The plot of Dawn is a stale recasting of every dramatic “clash of cultures” movie you’ve ever seen. There are the primitive but noble “savages” on the one hand, whose interests clash with the more advanced but not necessarily more moral “civilized people.” Can the two tribes put aside their cultural differences and cooperate to make a better world after mankind has been almost wiped out by a monkey virus? You’re guess is as good as mine.
And then it hit me. If this movie had been made in the 1950s, it would have been called “The Dawn of the Planet of the Apaches.” Yeah, Dawn is a science-fictionalized Cowboy and Indian movie. Just not a good one.
In this moral play, the apes are the noble savages. Like all noble savages, the apes have a strict moral code which they have written on a concrete wall near the Phillips 76 station in the Muir Woods where they hang out. The moral code has some things that everybody – humans and talking apes alike — can all get behind.
At the top of the list is “Ape Not Kill Ape.” Words to live by, despite the poor grammer. Sure, apes fight, but they don’t kill each other. They count coup, like Apaches. Except when they do kill each other. Way down the list is “Put Down Toilet Seat When Finished.” Okay, I the toilet commandment isn’t in the movie, but it’s just as smart as anything that is.
Speaking of Planet of the Apaches, this flick incorporates just about every cliché from vintage Cowboy and Indian movies that anyone could possibly want. There’s the strong, decent but cautious Big Chief Caesar who was raised by a kindly paleface who he remembers fondly. In fact, Caesar is accused of being a human-lover, and there’s just a bit of truth to that.
Caesar wants nothing more than to be left alone to raise his family and enjoy a tasty venison sandwich from time to time, which he tenderizes by driving a herd of deer off a cliff. Oh, yeah, these apes have ditched the vegan lifestyle and gone full carno, which is why PETA should boycott this film. Please.
For every point, there must be a counterpoint. To counterbalance (or unbalance) the wise and wonderful Caesar, there’s the obsequious, two faced and oh so malevolent Koba, who has a vicious streak as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge and a nasty score to settle with the white men. I mean the humans. He hates them. His upbringing at the hands of humans was a little rougher than Caesar’s. Koba even has scars so you can tell him apart from the nice chimps who are just swinging around, trying to make a living.
There’s the young Son of Chief, named Blue Eyes even though he never even tries to sing “My Way,” who’s transitioning through those awkward teenage pain-in-the-ass years. Will he eventually find his way to being a good and respectful son, will he go all Crazy Horse on the humans, or will the audience strangle him first just because he’s so damn obnoxious? Does anybody actually care?
And what about the humans? They live in San Francisco, they’re absolutely fabulous, darling, and they crave power. Electric power. So they can use their radios to reach out to other potential human colonies around the world, try to reestablish civilization and play late ‘60s Rock ‘n’ Roll. But they have to make a deal with the apes to get the power because the power plant is in Indian Country. Ominous, right?
The inadvertent first meeting in ten years twixt ape and human goes swirling down the porcelain convenience when one of the more cowardly humans freaks out and goes ape on an ape. This is going to make getting a treaty a bit more difficult than expected by anyone who hasn’t seen The Searchers.
The human leader, Dreyfus, is played by Gary Oldman. Dreyfus is a bit of an egotist and maybe he’s just a little bit nuts, too. He would be happy to wipe out all the apes to lay his hands on the gold in the Black Hills, oops, I meant the power station in the ‘Frisco hills. After all, the apes are “just animals.” We hear that a lot during the film. But Dreyfus is persuaded to hold off by Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke. Malcolm thinks he can parley with the pigeon English-speaking apes. Unfortunately, Malcolm is fresh out of beads and cheap trade goods.
Clarke is an engaging actor, and he’s believable even while he’s boring the audience to tears. Clarke can’t always contain his Aussie accent, which sometimes slips out when he has any actual acting lines to deliver. It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s distracting when it does.
Oldman is a distinguished actor, but not in this part. He never really gives it his all, which is understandable given the dialog he’s stuck with and the few lines he gets to spiel. Oldman does a pretty good job of disguising his inner Brit, so only a trace of his south London accents pops out.
So the acting is pedestrian. Director Matt Reeve’s pacing is plodding, with long stretches of near-terminal boredom. Reeves also directed “Cloverfield,” so if you’ve seen that film you understand what tedious pacing is all about. There’s one big battle scene in Dawn, which is lengthy and silly as the warrior apes go ridin’ their horses Comanche-style into Fort Point and the former Bagdad-By-The-Bay. The braves start a-whompin’ and a-whumpin’ every livin’ thing that moves to within an inch of its life. Fort Point, Fort Apache, Fort Dobbs – when you’ve seen the storming of one fort, you’ve seen them all.
The whole movie builds to the inevitable showdown between Cochise and Cream Cheese. Excuse me, I meant Caesar and Koba. In the Thunderdome no less. One ape enters, one ape leaves. You already know which is which.
So there’s not much here to get excited about. The 3D was okay, I guess. But it reminded me of one of those pop-up books we used to read when we were kids. There wasn’t much dimensionality, just a series of flat planes, one forward of the other. That’s a failure of the process.
There are a couple of nice non-acting touches. The sage orangutan in Dawn is named Maurice – and anyone who saw the 1968 grandfather of this brand of monkeyshines knows that Dr. Zaius, the orangutan lawgiver, was played by the incomparable stage actor Maurice Evans. See what they did there? Dawn also has a female chimp named Cornelia, which is probably a reference to the character of Cornelius in the original. I appreciated the homages.
And there are guns. Lots of guns. Ya gotta feel good about that.
Most of the firepower is of the common military variety, left behind in the armory by FEMA and the National Guard. One of the tasty ballistic features is Gary Oldman’s SBR, which seems to be either a Colt 933 with a M468 SIR-style hand guard, or a Barrett M468, in either case kitted out with an M68 Aimpoint scope and Surefire forward grip with a weapon light. I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell whether the carbine was shooting 5.56NATO or 6.8SPC, but Oldman wasn’t shooting at me so it was hard to tell.
Most of the humans seem to favor the M16A2 as their rifle of choice. Why? Well, I guess it’s what they had available. The 5.56 could be considered anemic when trying to put down 600 pound gorillas, but at least the cartridges are easy to carry. Right?
The apes seem to lean more to the M4A1 with an ACOG, which is a nice choice because while the 5.56 is a wimp when shooting gorillas, it does the business against unarmored people. But the apes can also do something that the humans can’t — the apes can easily handle their M4s one-handed, with accuracy, two at a time, bareback on galloping horses without even aiming while screaming. Either those impressive gun handling skills are innate, or the primates have been extensively trained by Gabe Suarez.
Blue Eyes shows off his inner teenage gunfighter by handling a Bushmaster ACR SBR with great style. Malcolm – a whiny bitch who spent a portion of the film on his knees, sucking up to the apes – carries a scoped Remington 700 early in the movie and brandishes an FN SCAR-H at his own boss Dreyfus.
Speaking of Malcolm, he’s also seen fondling a Smith & Wesson M64, while another of the humans puts a Smith & Wesson M629 V-Comp to good use. Of course, we have an AT4 for your rocket launching pleasure (but not by Rocket, who is one of the apes), a mounted SAW and Gary Oldman’s FS92 which he carries in a bitchin’ leg drop holster because he’s such a cool operator.
The most intense scene of simian ballistic buffoonery is when Koba blasts not one, but two machine guns at the same time while charging San Francisco on horseback. I understand that Spetsnaz actually teaches that skill to all its ambidextrous recruits. Anyway, one of the machine guns is an M249 SAW with a Paratrooper buttstock. The second one is probably the same, but it was hard to see. I’ll go with two SAWs while I make myself a screwdriver.
But the coolest firearm, by far, was the diminutive Remington 870 “Witness Protection” – two feet of twelve gauge kickass badness that tucks neatly into one’s carry-on luggage. Now that’s something that I really want. I think it’s likely to be an AOW rather than an SBS, which saves a few bucks on the tax stamp. So hell, I’ll take two.
Rumor has it that this film has a hidden anti-gun message. Early in the movie, we do see imagery of the two kings – Bloomberg and Obama — but they’re talking about evacuating, not guns. The producers say there’s no Trojan Horse in Dawn and I have to agree. Dawn is not an anti-gun message film. It is, however, true to its roots.
The original Planet of the Apes was released while the Cold War was frigid. Thousands of weapons of mass destruction were pointed at countries all over the world. Scientists – the same breed who are currently babbling about global warming – were babbling then about nuclear winter. Curtis LeMay’s 1965 threat to “bomb ‘em back to the stone age” of the film was all too possible. Planet was an anti-war movie and at its core, Dawn is too. There’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s obvious that the director is uncomfortable with guns – Caesar hates them — but in Dawn the snake in Paradise is more Koba than the guns. What is it gun guys always say? Oh, yeah. Guns don’t kill people. People – or batshit crazy apes – kill people. Here, the writers blame the bad apes and bad people, not the guns. So Dawn is a popcorn movie with less of a message than the original. In fact, the entire reset seems to have more of an anti-science message than an anti-gun message. After all, it was scientists who created the thinking apes and the monkey virus that took down the world.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is kicking major booty at the box office, and getting great reviews from reviewers and paying customers. I have no idea why, although when compared to Transformers: Age of Extinction, Dawnis the second coming of Citizen Kane. As for me, I want my 130 minutes back.
Model: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Caliber: .22 Long
Length: 130 minutes
Action: Not enough
Finish: There can’t be a finish since the sequel is already in the works
Price: $170 million. It earned about $75 million in its first weekend, so we are doomed to several more of these.
RATINGS (out of five bullets)
Style * * *
The script is dull, the big battle scene is silly, the showdown isn’t even mildly engaging, the acting is mediocre, the direction plodding, the 3D was almost as flat as the script. Other than that, it was great.
Reliability * * *
The apes are the stars of the show, mostly because they have more personality than the humans.
OVERALL RATING * * *
Try to stay awake.