Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A disappointing second entry into the franchise


The first entry into the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise, shocked viewers. Going in with no expectations they were rewarded with a largely enjoyable film, far from exceptional but deserving of a sequel. Now the initial wonderment of the motion capture has faded the flaws of the successor are exposed mercilessly.

What is particularly infuriating about these flaws is that they are the exact same ones present in the previous entry to the franchise. The most blatant of which is the gender diversity, or rather lack of. Again there is only one notable female character during the film and unsurprisingly, it’s a love interest who receives no attention besides the one scene in which she has utilitarian value. There was also the addition of an utterly forgettable and overly emotional son but fortunately as the writers do not seem to be fond of character development, any hopes of an explored family dynamic were short lived. His character could have been removed entirely and the narrative wouldn’t have to be changed at all.

After successfully solving the issue of gender, the writers then decided that they should progress onto race. Or rather they forgot about it, realised just before they were due to start filming and in a last minute effort to save face brought in a black actor to stand in the background of a few scenes, most notably swaying out of focus to The Band’s hit song The Weight. Quite frankly it is appalling that this is still an topic that has to be discussed. 1 in 17 people in San Francisco are black and 1 in 3 are asian, yet are we to assume that all but one of those people died?

A decade has passed since the Apes crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and the world is a very different place. Thanks to a questionable quality real news/inserted fake news compilation we learn that the virus has spread across the globe, with only 1 in 500 possessing genetic immunity. The world population is now 14 million and the once mighty San Francisco is reduced to a colony of a couple thousand.

In an attempt to regain constant power, a small group head for a dam on the edge of the city. Unbeknownst to them it is on the border of a thriving ape colony, which quickly captures them. Against the opinion of his left hand ape Kuba, Caesar helps the humans restore power in a peace offering. A decision that Kuba does not take well, storming off to spy on the humans, looking for something to stir up anger. He finds just that, humans are stockpiling weapons and ammunition but when Kuba comes back, Caesar does not want to know. Kuba wants war, and after an apparent assassination of Caesar, a war he gets.

The subsequent battle we see is awe inspiring. The human colony is settled in an eternally-under-construction tower block and has one entrance, which they guard with all their might. Rather than climb into the tower from above and avoid any ape casualties they decide to send in the cavalry units to charge the main gate followed swiftly by the infantry for our enjoyment. Seeing 50 apes on horseback charging in formation while free firing machine guns is not something I knew I wanted to see, but as they appeared through the fog I was exhilarated.

That sums up Dawn for me, it is not a good film, barely mediocre, but it scratches a cinematic itch. The part of me that wants to see highly financed chaos and war, and is willing to sit through over two hours of insipid viewing to get there.

Review: I Am Not Your Negro

“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.”

When James Baldwin died in 1987, he left behind not only some of America’s finest literature and frustratingly, an unfinished novel whose working title was intended to be ‘Remember This House’. which consisted of A mere collection of notes, documents and a manuscript. Director Raoul Peck took on the heavy task to pick up the pieces of Baldwin’s final literary effort.

What Peck understood from these writings was the essence of Baldwin’s philosophy—his lifelong demand to be his own man in a society that makes him experience his life through his skin colour. The way he sees it, the African-American has always been the White Man’s slave, and now slavery is abolished, subconsciously does not want break down the mental barrier that is the construct of “whiteness” and “blackness”.

At its core, ‘Remember This House’ was a personal insight into the lives of three great men deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in America: Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Each bringing three very different ideologies and approaches to the struggle for civil rights, they were predictably all murdered before the age of forty. In a rare appearance on television, Baldwin encapsulated very neatly white America’s most ingrained double-standard: “If any white man in the world says, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds,” Baldwin accurately states. “When a black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be any more like him.”

white supremacists

Peck attempts to explore the problematic position Baldwin caught up in amidst the Civil Rights movement, and almost succeeds. The film loses in dramatic effect as Peck draws links between Baldwin’s take on the Civil Rights movement of the sixties and race relations in America today. The emphasis is intended to show how these issues are all very much still relevant today. For me, Peck over-relies on Samuel L. Jackson’s mainstream appeal to narrate in order to captivate the viewer’s interest, and in addition to this has resort to small fragments of contemporary footage which results in a collage of vague notions and angles on the subject of race.

It is important to realise that not being on either side of the civil rights’ spectrum, he was not quite as popular as more extreme icons such as Malcom X or Martin Luther King. In the late fifties and early sixties especially, the mainstream movement struggled to identify with Baldwin’s words, due to the complexity of his arguments or his homosexuality. This included the likes of Martin Luther King, banning the “inflammatory” James Baldwin from appearing in the 1963 March in Washington, along with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver who made numerous homophobic comments regarding Baldwin.

Many of Baldwin’s fears and uncertainties about the “negro’s” future in America run parallel with those of Ta-Nehisi Coates, which he has expressed in his recent letter to his son, “Between the World and Me” (2015). The letter’s central theme is America’s systematic destruction of the black body and its key place in the building of America’s economy. Baldwin stresses how these three influential men, seen as a threat to the social hierarchy of the White supremacist, were all killed and “destroyed” before they could fulfill their true potential.

“I Am Not Your Negro” is an essential piece of documentation and a commendable effort at carrying out the assessment of the African-American’s place in a society that built itself on slavery and a denial of civil rights. The documentary shows that it is the change in mental approach to race relations that needs to be achieved, and we are still a long way from attaining this as the recent “Black Lives Matter” movement has shown.

james baldwin