My take on…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

My take on…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Hail, Caesar!

I’m a big time Planet of the Apes fan, as I explained in

My take on Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I even have a Planet of the Apes category on this blog.

In general, this latest movie was not a disappointment. Andy Serkis deserved (and got) top billing for the actor’s mocap (motion capture) performance as Caesar, the leader of the apes.

The effects are good (they clearly paid attention to hair moving…that’s a little thing, but it matters), even if the faces sometimes seem too brightly lit compared to the rest of the scene.

The script moved nicely, and had some clever twists to it.

It’s a big-time spectacle with an emotional center, which is just what you want in a summer blockbuster.

However…

It was perhaps the most sexist movie I’ve seen in years.

I’m careful not to spoil things, so I’m going to give you a mild

SPOILER ALERT

I’m not going to reveal any key plot points, but I am going to mention a few things.

This movie not only failed

The Bechdel Test

it’s one named (human) female character was relegated to the kind of nurturing support you might expect in a 1950s mainstream movie (1950s science fiction was more advanced than this in how women are treated).

First, a quick note on the Bechdel Test.

There are a lot of ways to say it (for more information, see the link above), but to pass the test, a movie (or TV episode, or book, or other work of fiction) has to have three elements:

  1. There must be two or more named female characters in it
  2. Two female characters must have a meaningful conversation and
  3. The conversation has to be about something other than a man

You might be surprised with how many works fail this test.

Even when people define it more loosely than I did on the second point (some people say any conversation counts, including: “Where’s the printer?” “Over there.”), it’s still a disappointingly small percentage.

In the case of DotPotA, Ellie (played by Keri Russell), seems particularly stereotyped.

What does the character do?

  • When an important male character is working hard on an issue, she observers that he needs to eat, and offers him soup…much as June Cleaver might have done with Ward
  • When there is a dangerous situation happening, she stays back…and sends a character off like a soldier going to battle
  • Yes, she is important to the plot because of her medical skills…I don’t recall it ever being said that she is a doctor. Being a nurse can be equally important, but it is a stereotypically female role (that has changed a great deal in the real world, but I would say that many people with a diminishing opinion of women would still see it as a female role)
  • Her “maternal nature” (that term isn’t used in the movie, I’m just defining the observed behavior) is important in relationships between the humans and the apes
  • Does she come up with any ideas that affect the course of things? Does she lead? I don’t really recall either of those happening

There are stronger female characters among the apes, although they still don’t lead.

The only other human females I recall seeing are in crowd scenes.

I was honestly surprised to see that one of the three credited screenwriters was apparently a woman (Amanda Silver), but that may be my own expectations getting in the way…I wouldn’t expect a woman to write a script like this, but of course, there’s no reason that couldn’t happen.

Hopefully, the already announced third movie in this series will do better in this area.

END SPOILER ALERT

The bottom line is that Andy Serkis’ performance is great (again) and Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes was another stand-out, the effects are good, the plot moves along…but the treatment (and lack of treatment) of female characters mars what would otherwise have been a very good movie. I can still recommend it, but with that reservation.

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5 Responses to “My take on…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. comicbookcollective Says:

    Great review. Check out mine as well: http://thecomicbookcollective.com/2014/07/14/dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes/

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, comicbookcollective!

      I enjoyed your review! Horse-riding apes, and the use of modern weaponry are both part of previous PotA movies (the latter especially in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).

      I actually try not to make mine traditional reviews: I call them a “my take on…” because I’m trying to give my subjective reaction to it without a lot of exposition.

      I’m curious: had you noticed a lack of strong (human) female characters? I’m not seeing that mentioned much in other reviews. I suggested to one of my readers (on another blog) that it would have been interesting if the Gary Oldman part had been played by, say, Kathy Bates.

      • comicbookcollective Says:

        Thanks.

        About the modern weaponry – I have seen the original movie and some (not all) of the others. The friend I saw the movie with and I knew the horses were not new, but he thought that the apes had never used guns in previous movies. I will edit my post.

        As for your the female characters, the main female human protagonist seemed to have a fairly large role, but maybe more would have been better as you say.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, comicbookcollective!

        There’s no good way to approach this without a

        SPOILER ALERT
        🙂

        The apes have used guns in previous movies…even Caesar in the original series used the most modern guns available, and with deadly intent.

        The original series of movies really breaks into three continuities.

        The first one, consisting of the first two movies (Planet and Beneath), takes place at a point in the future where there is no heavy manufacturing. Even in that situation, the apes use firearms. In checking this situation for you (one reason I love comments and finding other interesting bloggers), there is a site dedicated to documenting the use of firearms in movies:

        http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Planet_of_the_Apes_(1968)

        So, despite the logical unlikelihood of producing more ammunition, guns are used.

        The second arc is Escape and Conquest. In this period, Caesar is an advanced ape (from the future), but raised by a human since he was a newborn and without advanced ape culture. Caesar is more than willing to use guns, and in preparation for a massive armed rebellion, we actually see him making an effort to get ammunition.

        The third arc is Battle (which takes place quite a bit after Conquest). At this point, the apes have an armory. One ape serves as “Caesar’s Conscience” (I don’t recall if that’s the exact title). When Caesar is going to go to the Forbidden City to try to see documentation about his parents (evolved apes who had time traveled back), his group asks for machine guns “…for clearing obstacles.” I’m going from memory, so I’m not sure those are the exact words. They also ask for handguns, to which the “conscience” ironically replies with something like, “For clearing smaller obstacles, I presume.”

        Update: I just finished rewatching Battle, and there is a later see where the apes fire guns…wow, do they! I can’t think of many movies where so many guns were fired for such a prolonged period.

        You can watch all five of the original movies as no-additional-cost Prime movies right now (or at least you could a couple of days ago). Might be worth a binge-watch.

        As to Ellie in Dawn: she has quite a bit of screen time, but doesn’t seem to have much power except in a secondary role to the men (excluding her medical skills). What also got me was that there were no other named human female characters, when there easily could have been (and, I would suggest, it might have been more logical). Why isn’t there a woman in Dreyfus’ (Gary Oldman’s character’s) inner circle? We see women in the crowd scenes: is it reasonable that they would not have positions of influence?

        END SPOILER

        I’ve flipped your review into The Measured Circle’s Flipboard magazine, which has about 1,500 readers (and gets a lot of page flips into other magazines…close to 4,000). That makes yours the “cover article” for right now.🙂

        That may drive some more traffic to your site, although it’s likely yours already has more traffic than this one.😉 One of my other blogs is quite popular, but The Measured Circle is relatively a more popular Flipboard magazine than it is a site.

        http://flip.it/wG7zF

        I hope to hear more from you in the future…

  2. comicbookcollective Says:

    Great, thanks a lot for posting it!

    Yes, you certainly know your trivia on the use of guns in the past movies. I also think you’re right about the lack of female characters.

    Hope to hear from you in the future too.

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