Tuesday, July 15, 2014
News reports at the beginning of the film show that the world is now a post-apocalyptic landscape. The Apes that Dawn focuses on live in the steep woods outside the crumbling city of San Francisco, where throughout the years following the human collapse their leader, Caesar (Serkis), has taught the rest of the apes to flourish. They can communicate through hand signals (and in the rare instance, speaking actual English). They haven't seen humans for years, and the majority think that it's for the best: since some of the apes had been experimented on (essentially tortured) in the first film, the distrust they feel is warranted. The new little prospering world that they have created is thrown into disarray when a few gun-equipped humans show up, looking to restore a dam to bring back some of the city's electricity.
One of the main problems with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (also a bigger problem of Godzilla earlier this year) is the human characters. Gary Oldman portrays a sort-of military leader of the humans--it's safe to say that he's not keen on the apes controlling the land that the dam sits on. Keri Russell (damn good in FX's The Americans recently) pops up as the sympathizing significant other of Jason Clarke, who--like James Franco in the first film--realizes the potential and love that the apes can bring to Earth. But nobody impresses. The apes--led by Andy Serkis--portray far more emotion than their human counterparts. And when an ape deception occurs, you feel it as hard as any other human drama.
Like my the last film I reviewed, Snowpiercer, Dawn delves into social ideas about discrimination, equality, and deception. This time it's just humans vs. apes rather than humans vs. humans. But Dawn is good enough even if you're just there for the action. Sure, the image is (kinda) laughable of an ape duel-wielding machine guns riding a horse into battle. But with the tension-filled buildup, it's hard to not be excited by it. And Reeves stages some great scenes that have you picking sides, rooting for who you think is right. If you've been a bit bummed by this year's film entertainment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a good remedy: an ape evolution that's thoughtful and thrilling. (B+)
Sunday, July 6, 2014
An experiment to end global warming has caused an ice age that almost has wiped out the entirety of Earth's population. The only survivors make it onto a train that flies along a global railway system powered by a mysterious man and his perpetual motion machine. The basics: the rich live in luxury at the front of the train, the poor people in the rear. Guards periodically arrive in the back of the train, giving our dirty downtrodden disgusting protein blocks (they look like old cranberry sauce) and occasionally taking children for unknown reasons. At the tip of the train, a mysterious man named Wilford resides, and his rule is law.
Everything is not swell, and a rebellion is brewing: led by our humble hero Curtis (Chris Evans, better known as Captain America), the less-fortunate come up with a plan to bust through the guards and gates to overtake the train. To do so, they need the help of an engineer, Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) who spends all of his time sniffing a mind-altering drug called Kronol, and his maybe-psychic daughter Yona. With their help, they attempt to move through the seemingly-mile-long train car by car. This is one of those films that mixes humor and shock and violence with a surreal skill. You just can't wait to see what is behind the next door, and it's always surprising.
The film doesn't reach for perfection; consequently, it's not perfect: the political messages in Snowpiercer are just a backdrop for the action-adventure story and the excitement to see what weird thing is contained in the next car. And some of the special effects (mostly the outside views of the train barreling through snowdrifts and tunnels) are far from stellar. I also didn't love the ending. But these thing's don't take the enjoyment away from the weird ride. If Snowpiercer teaches us one thing, it's that we need more foreign and unique ideas thrown into American cinema. Ten years from now, I want to be watching more films like this one--not Transformers 8: Transforming Yet Again. (A-)