Better Than The First One. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Review

Despite the issues I have with the main antagonist, I consider Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a strong sequel with its empathetic characters and engaging drama.

Since the simian flu wiped out most of humanity, Caesar has established a small colony, where he enjoys a harmonious existence with his fellow apes. Suddenly human survivors appear and ask the apes for help with fixing a nearby dam. Caesar agrees but there are some humans and apes who are disturbed by the alliance and start to take action.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pic
Come at me.

All the Characters Have a Motive and Their Actions Advance the Plot

One big issue I had with Rise of the Planet of the Apes was its antagonists. I thought they were two-dimensional and didn’t feel real as characters. In Dawn however, all the characters have reasons behind their motives and attitudes.

Malcolm, for example, wants to fix the dam for the human survivors at the city. He’s met Caesar and is aware of his intelligence so he tries to collaborate with him, avoiding any violent confrontations.

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Jason Clarke as Malcolm, working with Andy Serkis’ Caesar [Credit: Fox]
Dreyfus on the other hand shares Malcolm’s desire but not his attitude. He is just as concerned about the peoples’ survival as Malcolm but he does not see the apes as sentient beings. He sees them as animals and a threat to the city, hence he is more willing to wage war against them.

While Dreyfus is clearly an antagonist, he has a desire and an attitude and therefore feels more three-dimensional than the antagonists in Rise.

The Plot and Its Intensity

The first act establishes the history and tension between the humans and the apes, showing where particular characters stand in regards to the opposing species. So when Malcolm’s group start collaborating with the apes you feel anxious because you don’t know how long the alliance will last until someone strikes.

Incidents occur that divide the collaboration briefly but each time they happen you see the trust between the two groups weaken, which creates more tension. You feel that there’s going to be an eruption, an incident that divides the groups completely and leads to conflict. For me personally this makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a lot more powerful than Rise.

Koba

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Toby Kebbell as Koba [Credit: Fox]
The only main criticism I have of the film is the character of Koba, an ape who hates the humans and triggers most of the conflict. On the surface he’s a good character, he has a motive and an attitude just like Malcolm and Dreyfus. He suffered vicious experiments performed by humans and wants to protect his village and fellow apes.

I understand why Koba hates humans, but for most of the film all we see is him simply displaying his prejudice. He’s never presented sympathetically. Not a lot of time is committed to establishing his character and attitude. He at least has a motive unlike the antagonists in Rise, it just wasn’t developed enough for me.

However, I forgive Koba because with its distinct characters and engaging plot, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film and I give it a great 8 out of 10.

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Good Reboots DO Exist! Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review

Since War for the Planet of the Apes is out at the moment, I thought I should review the previous films in the new reboot series.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a strong sci-fi film with its empathetic characters and engaging plot. However, the cliché antagonists were a weakness for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic
My monkey face 

In this first entry of the franchise reboot, a scientist is developing a drug that he hopes will cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he is fired from his company he suddenly becomes the parent of Caesar, an infant chimp who was exposed to the drug in-utero. The scientist experiments with the chimp in secret as Caesar displays great intelligence, intelligence that could threaten man’s dominion over the planet.

The Characters

Caesar is a child who is taken away from his parents and forced to thrive in a brutal environment. Charles Rodman, the scientist’s father, is a good loving man who is slowly deteriorating. These are archetypes that we can all understand. We can empathize with a lonely child trying to grow up or a loved one losing his character due to age or illness. These understandable qualities make the characters in Rise very empathetic.

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John Lithgow as Charles Rodman [Credit: Fox]
I appreciate the film for its focus on character and emotion rather than world building or referencing past films, as many recent prequels, reboots and sequels have tended to do.

The Tension and Plot

Due to assaulting a neighbor while protecting Charles, Caesar is taken to an animal shelter. Knowing his character and vulnerability, there’s a feeling of great anxiety when Caesar meets the other apes. We know how innocent and childlike he is, we know that he’s never been around other monkeys so we dread what’s going to happen.

As the plot progresses more tension arises, particularly in the third act when Caesar starts his revolution. At this point we know how much control the people have and how easily they can oppress apes, it honestly feels like Caesar is fighting a battle that he cannot possibly win.

If there’s one thing Rise of the Planet of the Apes exceeds at, it’s attracting empathy with the characters and creating tension with the plot.

The Antagonists

Steven Jacobs, the scientist’s boss, and Dodge Landon, the chief guard at the shelter, I think are very unconvincing characters. I understand that they’re supposed to represent humanity’s dominance and arrogance in the animal kingdom, so they don’t need to be particularly empathetic or multidimensional. However, their presentation made them appear too selfish and sadistic.

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David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs and Tom Felton as Dodge Landon [Credit: Fox]
Steven talks of the chimps at the laboratory with no sympathy and seems more concerned about making money, while Dodge displays clear joy as he torments the monkeys at the shelter. They don’t feel real hence it’s difficult to dislike them as antagonists. If Steven spoke more considerably about the chimps and Dodge acted more professionally and less playfully around the apes, then I think they would have been more convincing as people and as antagonists.

Overall, with its strongly empathetic characters and intense antagonism, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film despite its one-dimensional villains.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great 7 out of 10.

Most Underrated Remake EVER! The Blob (1988) Review

There seemed to be a trend in ‘80s Hollywood of remaking old science fiction films, the most famous examples being John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

However, Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars and Chuck Russell’s The Blob seem to have faded to obscurity in the last 30 years. The Blob, while it may not be as timeless as The Thing, is a very underrated remake.

The film’s premise is pretty much the same as the original. A meteor crashes in small town California and is discovered by a homeless man. As he prods the strange red goo with a stick, it slithers up his arm and sticks to his hand. He’s found by three teenagers and is taken to a hospital, where the Blob devours his body and escapes. Now it’s up to a couple of youths to convince the authorities of the Blob’s existence before it consumes the whole town.

The Blob pic
This was my exact expression after I’d seen the film.

The Tension

In the first half-hour we are introduced to a large cast of characters, all of them of different ages, occupations and positions in the community. In the 1958 original when characters and relationships are established, it’s an indication that they are the main characters who we’ll follow all the way through the film.

In the 1988 version however characters and relationships are established but are abruptly killed off. Within the first act, characters you assume would be the protagonists are devoured by the Blob. This creates a persistent tension that the 58 film did not possess. When a character encounters the Blob, it’s terrifying because you know that there’s a good chance he or she will get killed. No one is safe.

The Characters Are More Complex

When reviewing a remake I think it’s important to consider the film it’s based on, so we can see what the remake is building on. Nowadays the characters in the 88 version may appear like typical film archetypes but compared to the original the characters are a little more complex.

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Brian Flagg for example is more three-dimensional than Steve Andrews (McQueen) was in the 58 film. At first, he comes across as selfish, amoral and overall very unlikable. The complete opposite of the confident and charming Steve Andrews. However, as Brian encounters the Blob and its victims, he takes action and protects others rather than himself.

Another example is Dr Meadows, the leader of the biological containment team trying to stop the Blob. Like Brian he is more than he appears. He and his team come across as allies at first. You think they’ll work with the youths to help find and catch the creature, but when Brian listens in on a conversation Meadows has with his colleagues, we discover that the doctor is willing to go to extreme lengths to contain the Blob, even if it means endangering the townspeople.

The selfish rogue who starts caring for others and the villain who resembles an ally are common archetypes in today’s media. Hence the film’s characters are not that complex seeing them now but as I said I think it’s important to consider the original when reviewing a remake as a remake should be an improvement on the original. So, when comparing 88’s characters to 58’s, I think that the remake is indeed a fine improvement.

The Effects

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Like Cronenberg’s The Fly and Carpenter’s The Thing, the special effects in The Blob are so good they almost overshadow the other elements in the film. The use of puppets, both miniature and large-scale, gives a clear sense of the creature’s size. You are convinced that this thing is a living, expanding flood.

The make-up effects enhance the tension as we see in gruesome detail what happens to people when they’re consumed by the Blob. People dissolve like they’re in acid, we see their skin and flesh burn inside the creature. Whenever it appears you’re on the edge of your seat because you know how fast the Blob can move and what happens when it touches you.

Overall The Blob is a very strong remake with multidimensional characters, persistent tension and outstanding special effects. The only major issues regard the film’s longevity as like the original it’s a product of its time. With the clear ‘80s fashion and music The Blob lacks the timeless aesthetic of films like Carpenter’s The Thing. Those issues aside, I think The Blob is still a strong ‘80s horror film that deserves a lot more attention.

I give The Blob a solid 7 out of 10.