What Comicbook Superheroes Could Learn From ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Dawn of the Planet of the

Why do simian superheroes seem more empathetic than the normal comicbook kind?

Let me backtrack a few paces before answering this.

All of us have heard the admonition in years past from our English teachers: “Write about what you know and who you know” — and have chosen to ignore it. Yet this precept has been paying off for filmmakers like Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow and their friends. Films like “22 Jump Street,” “This Is the End” and “This Is 40” all seem to have been written about themselves and their buds, seemingly for their own personal enjoyment.

“22 Jump Street,” like the others, is doing well overseas, which makes you wonder how Chinese or Russian teenagers decode jokes about gay shrinks and weirded-out fratboys.

Woody Allen, too, is making movies about people he knows, but I don’t particularly like his new circle of friends — witness the rich and snooty characters in “Magic in the Moonlight,” for example.

Most of Woody’s recent films have been shot around Europe, where the lion’s share of his financing comes from. I’m glad Woody gets a blank check to shoot in Barcelona and the South of France, but I miss the New York schleppers who populated his early films like “Manhattan” and “Broadway Danny Rose.” These were Woody’s people. He was at home with them. Even the titles of his movies now seem remote. “Magic in the Moonlight” sounds like an operetta. Or a porn party.

To be sure, the superhero pictures of the summer try to build a connection between filmgoers and their protagonists. Spider-Man, like Batman, had a troubled adolescence. Captain America is inept with women. Iron Man doesn’t handle his money well (which is ironic considering Robert Downey Jr.’s formidable wealth).

These characters are just like us, right?

Why is it then that I empathize more with Caesar and Maurice than with Spidey or the kid in the Batcave? They are the simian superheroes of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the new film that’s generating good reviews and solid box office.

No one apparently told Matt Reeves, “Dawn’s” director, that it would be safer to focus on the people than the apes, or at least to create one simian who acts like Jonah Hill. (The heavy in “Dawn,” an over-aggressive orangutan named Koba, pursues rhetoric alarmingly close to that of Dick Cheney, but that may have been inadvertent.)

A megabudget franchise movie, “Dawn” deviates from the standard summer superhero movie once its early footage dispenses with events since “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” its predecessor: It seems that most of the previous cast, even the ubiquitous James Franco, have been victims of an apocalyptic virus, leaving the simians to establish a sylvan, Athens-like society across the bay from San Francisco (Franco, who is not in the movie, likely went to North Korea to smooth over relations).

The upshot is what critic A.O. Scott of the New York Times describes as “the best of this summer’s large-scale studio franchise movies,” which he acknowledges is damning with faint praise.

Whatever its narrative frailties, “Dawn” succeeds in taking audiences away from summer comedies that feel more like fraternity parties (I don’t want to join “Tammy’s”) or the superhero prequels that try so earnestly to make their characters relatable to their loyal filmgoers, who are becoming less loyal.

Spidey is a good kid, but he lacks the insights of Maurice, the stooped, copper-colored simian in “Dawn” whose speech sounds like it was scrambled by an errant deejay, but who nonetheless conveys a calm in his community. While I never knew anyone like Maurice, I expect to see him in future simian sequels. And I look forward to those encounters.

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  1. Kevin says:

    Yeah, comic movies are doing just fine.

  2. big daddy D says:

    I’m with you on the armoury..lame process..but I thought the mocap and Andy Serkis’ performance was magnificent! He imbued a real depth of character and emotion to Caesar. Easily notable come award nominations time.

  3. EK says:

    Yet another Barticle that fails to make its point, just assuming there was really one to make in the first place.

    • TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

      If you read the trades, apes are a pun on the zeitgeist and don’t make this a good year for movies. So Bart refers to Dawn as a superhero flick to make the rest of the tired, overdone genre look good. Or maybe he’s patronizing one trick pony box office that has hit a record down period. When stating the downbeat obvious becomes redundant, you put lipstick on a pig to appease millennial kiddies.

  4. Derek Marsh says:

    The first 30 minutes of the first Ironman film did it exactly right–we felt for this guy, money and all. So who turned the last 30 minutes of that movie shallow–even for a comic book movie? I doubt it was the director or writer’s desire to do so…

  5. I was looking forward to Dawn in a major way, and while I did enjoy myself, the filmmakers have forgotten something. This is a bold science fiction franchise, and this film forgot to include any science fiction. And I know all of the Apes movies can’t be the same, but we’re supposed to be cheering on the PEOPLE you know, not toss in a handful of caricatures of human characters just to make the plot move along. All this mocap development has taken us to a place this particular franchise should never have gone. A simian soap opera with way too many cgi ape tears than single effective human scenes. Way too impressed with itself, and forgot to not make it boring. Don’t get me started on the lame plot point of the huge armory with only 2 guards.

    • LOL says:

      I agree with you. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had an eerie sense of simulacra that prevented accessibility. Add to that human characters that were intrinsically bland, you’re left with little more than a glorified cartoon. There was nothing in it that isn’t featured on a Saturday morning Saban Entertainment kid’s show.

  6. big daddy D says:

    (The heavy in “Dawn,” an over-aggressive orangutan named Koba…umm, Mr. Bart, Koba is not an orangutan..that would be Maurice. Koba is the heavily scarred ape with PTSD and anger management issues. Some editing is required on this article, sir

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