So they say that sometimes there’s no accounting for taste. And I can’t imagine an “occupation” (yes, those quotation marks are intentional) where that’s more true than “movie critic”.
Yes, I’ll occasionally go against the grain (particularly when it involves my guilty pleasure—hello, Michael Bay!), but more often than not I’m within a few RottenTomatoes percentage points of the general consensus.
So imagine my surprise when the final credits began rolling and I opened my Flixster app to see what kind of lousy grade Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was sitting on. Heck, even with a few charity, bump-up points for Andy Serkis’ brilliant motion capture performance, there’d be no way this way was gonna be anywhere over 50%. Not even close.
Yeah, I head you the first time.
Not only is Dawn “certified fresh”, it’s one of the best-reviewed movies of the year so far—ahead of Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, Maleficent, and even X-Men: Days of Future Past.
I went back and looked through my notes, logged during the prior two-plus hours:
“Preposterous, even by talking-ape-movie standards”
“Parody of itself”
“Last ½ hr makes no sense”
…and then there are the thoughts that I didn’t write down:
Riddled with every moviemaking cliché you could imagine
Human story worthless, more apes please.
GAPING plot holes!
And then I started thinking that maybe I went into the movie prejudiced (but no, I liked the first one and was more than halfway looking forward to this one.) Maybe I was guilty of what I often accuse other critics of being—snobs who can’t appreciate a movie for what it’s supposed to be, even if it’s a piece of throwaway, summer trash (but no, I’m not. Dawn is just bad. Empirically.)
So here we go…
Picking up ten years after the events of 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes—well, let’s just pause there for a second. We learn that it’s been ten years through yet another good ol’ news-clip-montage opening. Millions of people are infected with the Simian Flu! Countries are under Martial Law! President Obama is warning people to seek shelter! Wait. President who? Ten years later? Here’s your sign.
So, the world’s in a tizzy. Our story begins (and ends) in dystopian San Francisco, where a rag-tag band of flu-immune humans (including Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman) are holed up downtown. The apes, meanwhile, are hiding out in the forest across the Golden Gate Bridge, learning how to read and write. (They’ve already perfected sign language.)
Things turn sour when the humans realize that they’re running precious-low on power (because, well, after ten years of meting out a platry existence, waiting until you’re only two weeks away from a blackout is the perfect time to get going). The good news? There’s a nearby hydro dam that can power the city. The bad news? It’s right next door to Apeville. The good news? Apparently it only takes a couple people a couple days to get a decade-abandoned hydroelectric dam up and running again. (Who knew?). The bad news? There’s always a bad seed in every bunch—for the humans, it’s the scrawny, gun-happy guy who smokes, of course. For the apes, it’s (natch) the ugly one with the dour disposition.
It’s not long before Dawn becomes a pedestrian, monkey-business version of The Lord of the Flies. Poor choices are made, superiority complexes win the day, and war is the only option. And the bombastic ape riding the horse and brandishing two machine guns is the only thing that doesn’t get hit by a bullet during a hellacious firefight. And hero ape Caesar (Serkis) who can’t even sit up after getting shot is, within just a few hours, recuperated enough to swing from girders, fall three or four stories, and get into a knock-down, drag-out fistfight.
I haven’t read any of the positive reviews yet, so I’m not sure what, in all that mess, warrants—what was it again?