Original ideas: everyone has them, across all age groups and all walks of life… unless, apparently, you work in or around Hollywood. And it is with this idea (See what I did there?) that I review the newest Planet of the Apes film, the second prequel – I hate that word so much – in the franchise and 127th overall movie to feature Homo Sapiens locked in a battle for survival with their other ape cousins, excepting the peaceful bonobo.
Where the hell are all the bonobos? We get our chimps, gorillas and orangutans – a surprisingly hard word to spell – by the shipload but no bonobos. Oh lord, I shouldn’t have asked that. Somewhere some Hollywood-based internet trawling artificial intelligence robot is now generating an automatic email that reads, “Anonymous internet crowdsourcing analyzed. Recommend green-lighting of Planet of the Apes: Bonobo Uprising immediately.” And then some exec reads the email on his Bvlgari model, pre-released iPhone 6 and thinks, Fuck yeah! Those idiots will eat this shit up! Now I’m gonna go do some blow! The cycle of derivative summer movies continues.
Even though a thought may be original, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good one. And frequently good ideas (A movie where the humans are all but extinct and apes have taken over!) become, in execution, corrupted. For instance, there now exists several single-use (thank god) moisturized towel products made for adults to wipe their asses with. I have never used one, but apparently they work well. One might look upon such a product and think I don’t need to buy this crap. I can totally make a facsimile of my own using products I already purchase on the reg. Then this industrious person simply wets down a paper towel with some warm water and VIOLA BOOM MONEY SAVED, SON! And then, perhaps this economically prudent gent tells a friend about this. And this friend thinks Dude, I could totally improve upon this without having to get up from the toilet and wet down a paper towel. This leads to the nationwide trend - and ensuing backlash against this trend - concerning people urinating upon wads of toilet paper and then wiping their butts with it. There’s nothing intrinsically unhealthy or wrong about this, but it’s really stupid and everyone knows it.
That’s how I feel about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – it’s stupid. Everyone knows it. Nobody is willing to address the elephant in the room. And professional film critics are for the most part in love with it, which is analogous to people talking about Bush’s second term in office, as if it was somehow a triumph that he didn’t accidently sneeze, press the wrong button by accident, and cause a nuclear holocaust. Basically, film critics think that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes deserves the level of positivity and encouragement as if it came in third place in a science fair for special needs children. Spoiler: it doesn’t.
Here’s what isn’t wrong with the flick – it’s well acted, the CGI is very impressive, and it seems to have been crafted competently in all stages of production. Here’s what it definitely isn’t – FUN. Remember when the base requirement for summer action/adventure blockbusters was that they were fun? That was a thing, wasn’t it? I can’t be the only one who thinks this, can I?
This movie is over two hours of bleak and drab dramatic buildup to a final act of bleak and drab action sequences, sequences that on paper and in description seem like they should be cool: POV OF HUMAN SURVIVORS; THEY WATCH THE MIDDLE DISTANCE WITH WEAPONS TRAINED AS SUDDENLY APES ON HORSEBACK EMERGE FROM THE FOG FIRING AUTOMATIC WEAPONS AT THEM. That sounds like it should be cool as shit. But it isn’t. The audience knows it’s coming and when it happens it’s kinda boring as a result. And there’s really no single person in the process you can blame for this. Oh yeah. Wait. Yeah, you can. It’s the writer. You can blame the writer.
The pitfall with making a prequel (*shudder) or “origin story” chapter of an established canon is that the audience already knows how the story ends in a general sense. In this specific case, the apes are going to win the inevitable war with humanity and usurp humans as the top of the food chain. They also never bother to build roads and shit for some reason, but I digress. Keeping this idea(!) in mind, where the story eventually leads to doesn’t so much matter. What matters is the way the whole thing plays out in front of us.
Ideally, a story is told in a way that engages more than one emotional response from its audience. We all know that Indiana Jones becomes a swashbuckling adventurer/tenured history professor whose female students all want to bone him and who has seemingly unlimited amounts of paid time off during the school year. But, hey, we don’t know until the third movie that his name wasn’t even Indiana at birth and that he has an overly critical and somewhat cold stickler of a father. We know from early on that he is afraid of snakes; we don’t know it’s because he fell into a train car full of them as a young man. These flashback scenes add to the ensuing comedic and dramatic moments with Indy and his dad as they race to find the Holy Grail, which we knew they were going to do because it’s in the title of the movie. Just like how we know the Apes go on to rule the Planet.
Another example of deft origin stories: the first flick in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, which you may recall I have a love/hate relationship with due to the second movie being way to over the top with the action sequences, but that’s beside the point. One thing that totally worked is the way that James TIBERIOUS Kirk is introduced to us all over again: a child being pursued in a stolen car by a police officer on a floaty motorbike thingy. With that once scene, we know that Kirk is an overly intelligent daredevil and a scoundrel by nature who is going to do unpredictable shit. Even though we know he will eventually become the captain of the Enterprise, it’s gonna be a hell of an adventure for him to get there.
Here’s what Dawn of the Planet of the Apes teaches us/elaborates upon: humans are a bunch of cowards who are too stupid to save themselves, cavalry charges against entrenched positions work if you are naked, apes can somehow ride horses without saddles even with those tiny legs, even after the apocalypse the sun never comes out in San Francisco, and bonobos get no respect at all.