‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Is the Perfect Remedy For the ‘Transformers’ Blues
It’s kind of remarkable that anyone tries anymore. Honestly, I have nothing against a movie like ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ -- and there’s almost something cathartic about its excess of spectacle. If video store chains were still popular, a movie like ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ wouldn’t be in the action section or the sci-fi section, it would be in the “blockbuster” section. (Unless this was actually at Blockbuster Video, where it wouldn’t be under that category because that would probably be too self-referential. It would be titled “box office buster,” or something.)
In other words: A movie like ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ exists only to make money. And it did make money -- a lot of money. And there are a lot of movies that fit into this supposed “blockbuster” (or, “box office buster”) category. These movies don’t have to be good. People just see them. That’s why it is really impressive when one of these movies is also as good as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.'
‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was a strange phenomenon. Released in August of 2011, conventional wisdom assumed that it was going to be bad. First, the studio that released the film, 20th Century Fox, hadn’t been doing many early screenings, along with the stigma that it was an August release. (That's not quite as bad as the infamous January and February dumping grounds, but pretty darn close. This year’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ will test this theory again, but at least in the case of 'Guardians,' there have been four Marvel movies in a four month span, so one of them needed to be in August.)
It also didn’t help that Tim Burton tried to reboot the ‘Apes’ franchise in 2001, with not much success.
Oh, and then there was the star of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ James Franco, taking a big ol’ metaphorical dump on the film before it even came out. Franco told Playboy, “Critics will be out to kill this movie and blame me for it just because they are out to kill me.” So, yeah, that didn’t really instill confidence in the movie-going public that ‘Rise’ was going to be something worth watching. Oh, he had much more to say!
They haven't shown me the movie yet. So I don't know what the result is. I did reshoots, and it sounds to me the final movie will be different from the screenplay, which had a lot of character development. The movie seems to be more action now...I never thought of this movie as an example of my creativity. I was an actor for hire. But people still have it out for me, so they're going to go after the movie.
Basically, it sounds like Franco just assumed – like the rest of us – that ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ would fail and he tried to preemptively distance himself from the film. It was a gamble on Franco’s part – a gamble in which he lost horribly. Second time director Rupert Wyatt’s ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was a hit, grossing $481 million worldwide and spawning a franchise that James Franco unsurprisingly has nothing to do with.
There’s a goodwill that exists with this new ‘Apes’ franchise. Fox really could have hired ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ director Matt Reeves (best known for directing ‘Cloverfield’) to come in and provide a serviceable sequel that would make a lot of money and get middling reviews. Again, when you look at this from the angle of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction,’ doing so actually kind of sounds reasonable, especially from a more business-oriented standpoint. Why try to do something interesting when the money is right there for the taking?
This is not the route Fox chose. Instead, Matt Reeves has now directed his own personal masterpiece.
Reeves in an interesting director in the fact that he’s always seemed rightthere as far as breaking through, but, for whatever reason, he hasn’t yet. He directed ‘Cloverfield,’ but J.J. Abrams seemed to get all of the attention surrounding that project. He directed ‘Let Me In,’ but that was a film that was and will always be overshadowed by the original Swedish film, ‘Let the Right One In.’ Matt Reeves has been very good at being overshadowed. This will change after ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ hits theaters. Matt Reeves will be an “in demand” director.
The trailers for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ are misleading. I will not reveal why, but the trailers lead you to have misconceptions about the motives of the characters that aren’t necessarily true. There aren’t really “good guys” or “bad guys” in ‘Dawn of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ – instead, every character’s motivation makes sense.
Set 10 years after the events of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ every human we knew from that first film has already been killed by a flu that resulted as a side effect from the Alzheimer drugs that were being tested on the apes in 'Rise.' Some of the humans that survive blame the apes for this, while the apes have been living peacefully in the forests of California.
The surviving humans living in San Francisco are out of fuel and need access to a dam; the apes control access to that dam. Reasonable people and reasonable apes try to work out a deal; unreasonable people and unreasonable apes try to sabotage that deal – again, for understandable motivations. It's all very reasonable.
I do fear we are entering an age where BIG movies won’t be this good anymore. And, honestly, they really don’t have to be this good, because it’s been proven time and time again that they don’t have to be this good. Just look at a movie like ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ which was almost punished at the box office for daring to be complex. But that’s kind of the takeaway with a movie like ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ … it’s nice to know that people actually do still care about making a legitimately great “blockbuster.” (Or “box office buster.”)
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.