Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ★★½

This simply isn't good enough. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was obviously meant to be fun, swinging through trees and bridges while emphasizing chimp solidarity and swift developments; Dawn begins with a ponderous zoom out from Caesar's ready-for-war eyes, and ends (over two hours later) with a slow zoom back in, as deadly heavy a bookend as imaginable. There are people I read who believe Matt Reeves is a talent, and with due respect I have no idea what they're talking about: the quest for contemporary craftsmen/heroes can lead to strange critical projects, but he isn't a worthy candidate. The script is pretty much garbage, and Reeves tackles it with strained seriousness, with a lot of competent-ish actors yelling at each other every seven minutes on schedule. Lost me right at the start, honestly: weightless CGI apes riding weightless CGI horses and fighting a weightless CGI horse is just too much stuff that doesn't look right all at once. Things do pick up eventually, but the dramatic reversals and twists are very formulaic. And why so serious? This is a movie with apes with guns riding horses through flaming buildings as stuff blows up around them; Timur Bekmambetov would know how to milk this for all it's campily worth, but Reeves seems to think he's filming a Holocaust drama.

There's one scene that breaks through the torpor: an ape approaches two dumb dudes testing weapons and acts like an "ape," making dumb faces and laughing and scratching himself. It's a feint: when their guard is down, he grabs their guns and shoots both. It's a minstrel-drops-the-disguise scene whose overtones connect Apes back to the series' odd Black Power legacy and pretty much the only instance of humor (grim irony, anyway). The rest can be synecdochally summed up by the scene when the power's been restored and everyone celebrates by smiling and listening to The Band's "The Weight," as ponderous a song as there is. There's a token black guy (he really is token; barely any lines, just there as an obligatory presence), and he grins as if we just solved global warming, and everyone stands and looks at each other warmly. None of that is earned or felt.