By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Monkey See Monkey Do. Monkey doo doo.
This is hardly Pulitzer Prize writing, but the entire time I was watching “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” I could not get this rude little jingle out of my head.
Its predecessor, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” did the near-impossible: it resurrected a series that had trashed its own legacy throughout the early ‘70s — not to mention a Big Bucks remake that only proved that Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston (not that he has to be, but I’ll bet Chuck could’ve made something out of the expensive hash that was this movie).
“Dawn” begins roughly 10 years or so after the final battle on the Golden Gate Bridge that ended “Rise” (Apes, 1,000,000, Humans, 0).
Humanity has been decimated by simian flu, to which the chimps, gorillas, etc. are apparently immune. In a decimated San Francisco (geez, it’s so nice, for once, to see San Fran not looking its best), a small band of survivors, led by Gary Oldman, are doing their best to hold things together.
But a threatened power shortage sends a few intrepid types, led by Jason Clark and Keri Russell, up into ape country in hopes of revving up a long-abandoned dam’s hydroelectric system.
A close encounter of the first kind is inevitable. The apes are surprised to learn humans still exist. The humans are surprised to learn apes, led by our hero Caesar (heroic Andy Serkis), can now talk (when Caesar first speaks, he sounds eerily like Brando as Don Corleone).
A kind of peace treaty is brokered and quickly broken, with wrong done by both sides. Both leaders try to be voices of reason, but each is betrayed by a hothead.
And suddenly, as the action revs up, we’re watching…I don’t know…”Taza, Son of Cochise” (starring Rock Hudson as Taza; I kid you not)? ”Dawn” turns out to be nothing more than an extremely well-done Western, circa 1954 plotwise, with state-of-the-art special effects. No matter — the plot is straight out of Western Movies 101. (for further reference, see “Avatar”).
Serkis may be the 21st century’s answer to Lon Chaney in that, while his work is known world-wide, nobody’s exactly sure what he looks like. He’s by far the best thing in the film, somehow turning motion-capture into emotion-capture as well.
A few other things worth noting: a delightful scene in which said simian hothead — having been caught spying by humans —breaks into an n inspired circus monkey routine to throw them off (think, Cheetah or “Bedtime for Bonzo.”)
Also worth a mention is the ape society’s sole orangutan — very large and very orange.
Orangutan and Serkis aside, the film is a bothersome disappointment. I never thought I’d write this but, where is James Franco (star of “Rise”) when you need him?