I get hate mail. Take a moment, sit down and absorb that extremely shocking statement. Yes, there are people in the world who find my reviews to be … (gasp) unpleasant. If being liked were a prerequisite for a writer, I would have starved long ago. Validation does not drive my writing career. As a guy who writes about film for a few different outlets, I get a healthy amount of people telling me how little they think of my opinion—which is fine. I’d be a little worried about the state of the world if a lot of people started agreeing with me. What bothers me is how consistently wrong people are when discussing my work.
I’ve been writing for encore for nearly 10 years. I wrote for a film website for a few years before that. Thus, I’ve spent about a decade-and-a-half opining about movies, comic books and the film industry. The one comment that always makes me cringe is the assertion that I hate movies. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that always appears in comments and hate mail. Somebody with a stick in their craw decides to write a few words responding to a column, and they immediately assume I’m a perpetually angry person who is only capable of experiencing joy when I’m tearing down a movie. As if someone would commit to spending 15 years writing about a subject only to express their hatred for the subject.
It feels disingenuous to say “I love movies,” because, let’s face it, not every movie deserves love. A great movie deserves love. A good movie deserves like. An average movie deserves bemused resignation. A bad movie deserves hate. The problem is so many readers seem to cling to the bad reviews. They remember when I tear apart a film or eviscerate a complete piece of trash. They don’t remember the eight other reviews I wrote in the weeks before praising other, better films. Hate seems to resonate with readers where praise is quickly forgotten.
I thought about this a lot while watching “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Why? Because this has been a really good summer for big-budget blockbusters. Actually, I’ve been impressed with the quality of films during a time of year when most media outlets recommend audiences shut off their brains to try and enjoy pointless sound and fury. “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Godzilla,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Snowpiercer,” “22 Jump Street,” and “The Double” all were extremely fun films. Add to that list “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
I was a big fan of the original “Planet of the Apes.” Then Tim Burton got his hands on the franchise, cast Marky Mark in the lead, and proceeded to take a long, messy piss on the franchise. When 20th Century Fox went back to the well, they took a much more subtle approach to the concept of a world dominated by simians. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was an intriguing film that resonated with me because it spent so much time focusing on the non-human characters. It’s interesting to see a movie about apes that actually uses them for something other than pointless conflict.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picks up 10 years after the events of “Rise.” If you don’t remember, Doctor James Franco created a formula that made apes smarter, but had one unfortunate side effect: wiping out 99% of the human population on Earth. Apparently, a small fraction of the population survived and has banded together to try and reclaim some semblance of their pre-apocalyptic existence. This involves traveling to San Francisco and getting an old dam working again. The only problem is the dam is located in the woods where the leader of the apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and his fellow hyper-evolutionary brethren call home.
Our conflict is quickly established. The humans are dealing with annihilation. Now they learn not only are there super-intelligent apes that can kind of talk, but these former feces-throwing circus sideshows and make-up test animals are controlling their fate. Like all humans, there are different schools of thought: The sensitive left-wing types want to talk to the apes and explain their plight. The more right-wing conservatives want to gun down every damn dirty ape they see, from Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z.
The interesting thing is how the director, Matt Reeves, takes knee-jerk reactions and applies them to both species. The apes are equally perplexed by the humans. Caesar believes in peaceful cohabitation. While others believe people can’t be trusted, and that their past crimes toward animals deserve violent retribution.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a fantastic summer blockbuster because it plays the long game. It takes time to introduce us to a new cast of human characters, and the film spends a significant amount of time in the ape community. There are heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict, and the special effects are so brilliantly staged. I bought every frame, even when I saw savage apes riding horses and firing machine guns, it felt like a real world that the characters were inhabiting. The apes films have become thinly veiled metaphors for man’s hubris and the perils of the apes achieving sentience. This is far smarter than most other summer movies and a damn-fine piece of filmmaking.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis
Directed by Matt Reeves