Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I was not a big fan of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”; however, I was not averse to the series being rebooted. I was hoping for something a little more brazen and daring, maybe. Like the original Rod Serling-penned film was. I know that Hollywood isn’t what it used to be and it’s harder for mainstream films to have a “message” that isn’t politically correct or sometimes downright cloying; but the “Apes” series was about change, and progression. It was a social commentary about race relations and bigotry–something that still and always will permeate society. “Rise” seemed to fall short on that, and the storyline just felt predictable and easy. That said, I did appreciate Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. He seems to be right at home as a CGI enhanced character.

Here he returns as Caesar, but things have changed dramatically for planet earth. The virus hinted at in “Rise” has now wiped out a good portion of the human population, and apes are unaffected. They are, however, pretty smart and have evolved (oops, careful) into a healthy society. Caesar is their leader, with his old friend and wingman, Koba (Toby Kebbell) at his side. He also has a son named Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and a newborn with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), who is suffering from an illness after the second son is born. The apes seem to be living happy as a tribe, until they are met with a group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Koba hates all humans, but Caesar isn’t so quick to dismiss them all. He knows there is good in them, he just has a hard time trusting them. When it’s discovered that the humans need to access a dam to give power to their dwellings outside the forest, Caesar has to make a choice to trust them. The dam happens to be in their jurisdiction. The humans are desperate, with only enough fuel at their compound to last another week. The leader, Drefyus (Gary Oldman), doesn’t really have an opinion on the apes, he just considers them animals. But Malcolm has seen their intelligence and isn’t intimidated as much as he is fascinated. He and Caesar strike a bond, with Caesar most likely remembering his younger years as a subject with Will (James Franco, making a cameo appearance in an old video that Caesar stumbles upon when he is in his old abandoned home). Caesar lets the humans do their “human work”–then, Koba reminds him, in a well done scene, that he, too, has had “human work”. He points to his scars, and simply says, “Human work”. The apes can talk, but primitively. They can complete sentences, but they cannot yet talk as well as, say, Dr. Zaius.

The strongest performances come from Serkis and Clarke as Caesar and Malcolm. Director Matt Reeves is wise to allow the film to breathe once in a while and give some time to flesh out the characters. Malcolm has a son, but lost his wife to the virus. His love interest, played well by Keri Russel, lost a child as well, and tries to form a bond with Malcolm’s son, named Alexander. Alexander begins a bit of a friendship with the Orangutan, Maurice (Karin Konoval). But it’s Caesar’s friendship with Malcolm that pushes this story along–although I will also mention that the story of Caesar and his son Blue Eyes is strong as well. Caesar finds that he can trust Malcolm, but not everyone. A member of his crew, Carver, hates the apes and plays one of the unfortunately strawman villains that is simply in there to stir things up. Koba, who is a stronger villain, somewhat dwindles into a stereotypical antagonist by the end as well but he does have some strong earlier scenes. I think the best scene with Koba involves him infiltrating the humans’ military compound where two moronic guys are testing guns. He acts like a dumb circus ape (a bonobo to be exact), and gets the guys to lower their defenses when he suddenly grabs their gun and “accidentally” kills one. The other one, terrified and astounded at the same time, suffers the same fate except Koba shows that he knows exactly what he’s doing this time.

The climactic battle between humans and apes is an exciting one, and impressive for it being almost entirely CG. Nothing looks phony or out of whack (although I wouldn’t recommend wasting the extra money to see it in 3-D, it does absolutely nothing). In the end, both Caesar and Malcolm know that no matter how much they want peace, it’s always the violence that wins out. Finally, we get a bit of that old “Apes” film feel when we know we’re just all doomed. The end certainly sets up another sequel, and I won’t give away how it all unfolds. But it is very strong, and very convincing, something that I just felt was lacking in “Rise”. This is a very well done sequel, and should be considered among the “better than the original” sequels like “The Godfather II”, “Empire Strikes Back”, and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. It moves at a good pace for a film that’s over two hours, and the performances are all very well done.

If there was a necessary injection to give life into the franchise, this one delivers and is just what it needed, even after a soft origin film.

My rating: :-)

RoboCop (2014)

March 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I had initial reservations about this remake–first, because I’m tired of remakes. Second, because what exactly was lacking in the 1987 film? It never really left you wanting more as far as themes and characters go–and even if you did, you had 2 sequels to…well, enjoy may be a strong word.

In the past few years, though, there were talks about a reboot. Names got thrown around like Darren Aronofsky and David Self. But it was like one of those things you just wanted to pretend wasn’t happening. It seemed to be more of a realistic thing coming to fruition when the “Total Recall” remake was released. And then we knew it was only a matter of time.

So, now, in 2014, ready or not, we have “RoboCop” the remake, directed by Jose Padilha (director of the “Elite Squad” films). I didn’t have high hopes going into the film; but from the opening sequence to the final frame, I have to say this is a remake that does what few remakes do–have its own story and idea.

There are films I”d love to see be remade–such as “The Stuff”, which is a timeless plot about consumerism and certainly has plenty of relevance nowadays, and the original film was actually kind of weak. “RoboCop” was certainly not one of them. But this film takes the idea of a cop KIA turned into cyborg and does something a little different. For one thing, this time, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is not killed. He is set up after a sting goes wrong with a criminal syndicate, and a bomb is planted in his car. He is horribly burned and loses most of his body parts–but his brain is very much intact. His wife has to make the decision to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, OmniCorp is a very successful robotics corporation run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) who is not allowed to produce robots for the United States, but has a highly lauded campaign going on in the Middle East with robot soldiers that are cleaning up the streets much like police officers would. Detroit is a city that’s still riddled with crime; and, according to Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), host of the show “The Novak Element” (serving as the bookends of the film), we need these machines just as badly. But, there is a bill in Congress known as the Dreyfus Act which denies the use of robots as enforcers, because they don’t have morals or a sense of right and wrong. They’re too clinical. Sellars tries to convince the Senate that the Dreyfus Act should be repealed, but he isn’t getting any support. He believes it’s due to the fact that Americans need a “face”. So, “put a man in a machine”, and suddenly there will be support.

Murphy is one of the candidates for the program. Chief Scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, borrowing his Commissioner Gordon accent and persona) is hired to create what’s going to be known as RoboCop. He designs a mechanical body for Murphy, covering most of his eroded body. Murphy is at first horrified by his appearance and wants to shut down the program and be put down; but the whole operation came about because his wife authorized it, and she wants to see him again. This, along with wanting to be with his family again, prompts Murphy to continue with the program.

Then, RoboCop is completed and becomes a powerful tool of the police, cleaning up crime easily. But there’s a problem–he has a conscious, and he’s still haunted by his attempted murder and wants to find the men who did it. He has a new set of tasks, however, and isn’t authorized to continue his search. Unfortunately for Murphy, he is mostly machine and can be controlled. Norton is ordered to shut down his emotional system in order for him to perform his duties clinically, as a machine would. But this alienates his old partner (Michael K. Williams) and his family which is tearing them apart.

Norton then finds himself with his own moral dilemma, and decides RoboCop should retain his emotions and memories. What RoboCop uncovers after changing his prime directive back to locating his attempted killers drives the climax of the film, and it’s a satisfying one. There’s a character, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) that comes into play as a somewhat shady guy and has a lot to do with RoboCop’s programming and de-programming. It’s a bit of a predictable angle, but Haley adds a nice touch to the character where in some situations he’s borderline likable; and other times, you love seeing him get his. And speaking of performances, Kinnaman’s is very strong as Murphy/RoboCop. He isn’t your typical cardboard cut out hero. There is a lot of pain behind the visor, and we see that come through.

But what really makes the film separate from the original is that it constantly asks questions about compromising our emotions in favor of efficiency. Are we losing our touch with humanity? Do we want to? As amusing as the Novak Element is, it stands as a symbol and a commentary on where the world seems to be right now. We have all of this access to social media and everyone has a voice–but does anyone really know what to say? Or are we content with drones carrying out our dirty work?

The film could have developed these questions further–but it only has so much time and has to sew up its plot in two hours. What I’d like to see is a TV spin off that allows the characters to grow along with the themes the movie introduces us to.

Overall, though, the film works enough and is entertaining. The second half of act two drags a little bit, just because so much is going on and it starts to break down in its direction on where it’s going–but it certainly finds itself enough in the end. There are a few nods to the original; I definitely missed the amusing satirical ads such as “Nuke ’em!” and the interview with Keva Rosenberg. Other than that, though, I actually started to forget about the original while watching this film–and that hasn’t happened to me in regards to a remake in a long time.

My rating: :-)