The Counselor

Dawn of The Planet of the Apes

By the time we arrive at the third installment of a trilogy, I usually think the whole concept has “jumped the shark.” I found 2001’s reboot of Planet of the Apes supremely underwhelming, failing to live up to the intriguing, subtle social commentary of the Charlton Heston (The Order) original. I don’t think it was a hit with audiences either, and maybe that’s why it was ten years before someone thought to make a sequel, giving us 2011’s effective installment featuring James Franco (This Is the End). The trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes promised a shift in storytelling, and since the second edition was entertaining, I was fairly optimistic.

Dawn opens in a post apocalyptic future, where a simian flu has ravaged the planet. Juxtaposed with this doomsday scenario is a bleak forecast whereby apes have evolved higher than what could’ve been imagined – thanks to man’s insatiable need to take technology past its moral end. Years of primate experiments have created a highly intelligent species of ape. The dwindling human population coupled with the rise of the apes has shifted the balance of power between species, with humans trying to restore the power grid after most of the world has been wiped out. A sizable community of apes have established themselves in the outskirts of San Francisco, living perhaps as early humans once did.

Their establishment of a moral code evinces their keen intelligence, serving as a fascinating sociological exercise in evolution and development. We met Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) in the last Apes movie, and he is featured again in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the unquestionable leader of his tribe. He is everything one would desire in a leader, human or otherwise. He is patient, slow to anger, and governed by a sense of right and wrong. When a small band of human survivors surprisingly confronts the apes, Caesar reacts with prudence rather than fear. This puts him at odds with the other apes, namely best friend and secret nemesis Koba (Tony Kebbell, The Counselor), an ape that lacks Caesar’s favorable impression of mankind.

Circumstances dictate that humans and apes collide when it becomes clear that man needs the resources of Caesar’s territory to ensure its survival. Thus the stage is set for a standoff of Darwinian proportions. Malcolm (Jason Clarke, White House Down) compassionately leads the human explorers, but he answers to Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises) who is much more skeptical about the possibility of striking a peaceful understanding with the apes. With a nod to the jingoism and xenophobia of the current climate, the film depicts the fear we as humans (read: Americans) harbor toward those that are different from us.

While the movie was somewhat predictable in its story arc, I appreciated the parallel between Caesar and Shakespeare’s Caesar, as well as the humanization of these computer-generated characters. There was obviously a conscious shift in storytelling to feature the perspective of the apes more centrally, foregoing the human outlook and aligning the viewer with Caesar from the outset. Who can deny man’s incessant need to assert his dominance over others? History alone has taught us this. I found Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be vastly entertaining, and in a sea of heretofore summer mediocrity, it stands out as worthwhile summertime fare – at least for now. Grade: B+

This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.


X-Men: Days of Future Past

Whether it’s foolish or not, I’ve always shown brand loyalty. When I decide I like something, it takes me a while to turn my back on it, even if the quality declines. I’m also a sucker for advertising. Hence, I will probably have an iPhone for the rest of my life; I don’t care if the Samsung Galaxy is superior. I’m loyal to my favorite movie franchises too. Quite simply: I like X-Men. I’ve seen every installment in the franchise, and I can admit that a few were subpar (X-Men 2) – but that’s not going to stop me from seeing the latest entrant upon its release. I enjoyed 2011’s X-Men: First Class and eagerly anticipated a return to the prequel format that showcased the likes of a young Professor X (James McAvoy, Trance), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender, The Counselor).

Director Bryan Singer (Jack the Giant Slayer) returns to helm the latest iteration of the popular franchise, and I thought his efforts were mostly successful. The familiar themes are present, yet they felt more relevant than trite. The mutants have always been characterized by the juxtaposition of ostracism and duty, with some vehemently loyal to protecting a species that welcomes them with one hand, yet pushes them away with the other. However, Magneto and his ilk have a darker ethos, perennially mistrustful of the so-called benevolence of mankind. They know that fear defeats loyalty and love nearly every time, and would rather not give humans an inch, lest they take a proverbial mile.

The movie begins in an apocalyptic future, where the tenuous bond between mutants and humans has been irrevocably broken. The powers that be have crafted a method of ruthlessly efficient eradication of mutants, and the species is essentially helpless, barely staying one step ahead of their predators. A government scientist named Trask (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones) has enabled the reverse engineering of Mystique’s DNA, creating an adaptable killer who can snuff out mutants easily. The only way to ensure mutant survival is to go back in time and change the events of history so that the government does not develop this deadly technology.

The movie’s plot was entertaining and relatively simple, which I appreciated. McAvoy and the remaining cast were compelling and demonstrated great chemistry. Jennifer Lawrence added complexity to her role, humanizing her mutant character and making her a sympathetic figure in the face of persecution. There are always deeper psychological underpinnings at work in this franchise, if one chooses to explore them. Again, I find it interesting that so many mutants crave acceptance from the very institutions that seek to destroy them. I thought this was a fine addition to the franchise, and I wasn’t disappointed. Writer Simon Kinberg (This Means War) crafted a clever script that will allow an infusion of new life into the series, opening up tons of creative possibilities that were previously non-existent. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but since the movie involves changing the events of the past, it means that history can be re-written: for the X-Men and for everyone. Solid, fun movie. Grade: A-