When you look to review a movie, or at least try to find a means of scoring it, I think you have to look at a number of factors.
There’s no doubt that in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the CGI is excellent. But I would argue these days that CGI is excellent as standard. It’s no longer something to turn your head and make you go “Wow”, but rather should only be remarked upon if it’s bad. If I was scoring a film now, there would be no extra points given for excellent CGI, because you’ll find every blockbuster is the same; instead, I’d only mark it down if it wasn’t up to scratch.
So if you ignore that, you’re then left with the acting and the writing.
There’s nothing wrong with the acting here. Then again, there’s nothing majorly right about it either. The humans – played by actors like Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Jason Clarke – all do a decent enough job for the rather shallow characters they are given to play. Meanwhile, the voice actors of the apes hardly have a serious amount of work to do in their jobs, and so I found them unremarkable.
So we can check that off as being nothing to write home about either.
And what of the writing?
Well here’s where it gets interesting for me.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a plot that has been done time and time again in science fiction. The notion of two different races trying for peace only for warmongers in their respective ranks to bring about conflict instead is nothing new. As a Doctor Who fan, it’s essentially the plot to Doctor Who & The Silurians, The Sea Devils, Frontier in Space, Warriors of the Deep, The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood and probably a handful of other stories that don’t spring to mind right now. And that’s just from one TV show. It will have been done in other mediums before as well, not least in the 1973 film Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
And what’s so crushingly familiar is that they don’t bother to deviate from the same plotline at all. The humans meet the apes, there’s initial mistrust, the leaders of the respective races look for peace but their lieutenants aim for war. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t even try to be different. And that disappoints me.
Don’t get me wrong; taken as a self-contained piece of work, this is fine – good even – but because it’s so unoriginal, I just cannot understand the ratings that it’s been awarded, such as 8.5/10 from 30,000 votes on imdb, a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average of 4 stars from journalists across the globe.
For a film to be rated so highly, I think it either has to have something extraordinary about it – which this doesn’t – or for it to be a fine variation on a theme – which this isn’t.
Even away from the basic formula, I watched it and found myself pondering the following issues…
- It seems as though this has been written in the same dodgy way as so many science fiction and horror shows before it, in that a planet has been condensed to a handful of square miles for the benefit of storytelling that can’t be arsed to think in terms of scale.
- As powerful as these apes are supposed to be, they remain susceptible to bullets and can be easily killed.
- Moreover, they are only one relatively small colony living in the hills near San Francisco. There are more humans than apes!! “Planet of the Apes” indeed; more like “Village of the Apes”.
- There’s no good reason for why they weren’t killed off years earlier.
- Now you could argue that they weren’t because most of humanity has been wiped out by Simian Flu, but that’s clearly not the case; there are thousands of people – more than enough to succeed as a society – living in San Francisco alone, surviving thanks to immunity. You would therefore expect that there will be survivors all across the US and the globe. Where are they? And how did the people of San Francisco lose contact with them?
- Or is it that we’re supposed to believe that the majority of humanity has decided to settle within walking distance of the apes and that there’s only one dam in the whole of the US that they can draw power from? Even though they’ve been getting on fine for the last 10 years using petrol?
- With so many survivors and – you’d imagine – communities, how come civilisation didn’t manage to be maintained anyway? Like I say, the sheer number of people living in the settlement suggests the problems facing humanity in shows like Survivors just wouldn’t apply here.
- And lest we forget that in shows like Survivors where a huge proportion of the population have been wiped out, settling in cities is out of the question because of the amount of death and disease remaining in them. There was none of that here at all.
- If – as appears to be the case – the apes are soon to find themselves on the receiving end of organised military attack, it doesn’t seem feasible that they would survive; they just don’t have the numbers for it. So how is this the dawn of their planet rather than its sunset?
So it doesn’t hold up to me at all when you take a moment to think about the plot. And I’m sure there will be some of you reading this thinking I’m being pedantic, but I’m not. It wouldn’t have been difficult to redress the scale of both the ape colony and the human settlement to make this seem even remotely believable within the confines of the world it’s supposed to be set.
But they didn’t do that.
Therefore, I would say that while this is a decent enough film if you switch your brain off, it doesn’t have a plot that holds up to scrutiny, nor does it have one even slightly original.
And because of that, I just don’t get the hype, or the ratings.