Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted: July 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews

In the newest Planet of the Apes film, Caesar leads his people against oppressive forces.

In the newest Planet of the Apes film, Caesar leads his people against oppressive forces.

Planet of the Apes  is one of those films that’s considered a “classic” but that only a small percentage of people have seen (at least in the 40-some years since its initial release), and an even smaller amount of people of that percentage actually like. It’s an imaginative film, to be sure, with one of the greatest actors to ever live leading it, and its popularity gave birth to four sequels and one remake. None of them reached any level of impressiveness. Then came Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, a precursor story to what would eventually become man’s downfall and the apes’ rise to power, which also rebooted the franchise. Rise was, for sure, an ambitious and remarkable film. With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes——the sequel to the prequel——we see just how utterly amazing a film about intelligent apes rising against humanity can truly be.

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Summary: (No spoilers)

For ten years humanity has suffered under the lab-created virus, dubbed the “Simian Flu”, that has reduced earth’s population to a mere fraction. In San Francisco, buildings and skyscrapers stand overgrown and desolate while the few remaining citizens hunker down in an encampment, their only hope of survival resting in the repair of the dam——a power source that will enable humanity to regrow and connect to the remaining survivors around the world, if any.

But the only thing standing in their way is the colony of intelligent apes dwelling in the redwood forest on the opposite end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Emboldened by their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis—–The Lord of the Rings, King Kong), the apes live in peace and harmony, hunting and surviving off the land. When Malcolm (Jason Clarke—–Zero Dark Thirty) confronts Caesar asking for his trust as he takes on the vital task, tempers flare in the ape community. Many of the apes, led by Koba (Toby Kebbel—–War Horse), the most apprehensive of them all, claim that humans are not to be trusted and will wipe them all out once their power is restored. The apes, he claims, must go to war against the humans. But Caesar, knowing their potential for good, will not hear of it.

Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebell_Dawn/Apes

Meanwhile, a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman—–the Dark Knight trilogy) is leading an uprising against the apes. Despite the possibility of peaceful coexistence, with both Malcolm and Caesar vying for peace, Koba’s and Dreyfus’s ideologies unfortunately influence their own sides.

Also starring: Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo

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 There are so many ways this film could have gone awry. It is, at its core, a film about humanity battling intelligent apes; but ultimately, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, manages to produce a riveting story. It is, in actuality, a retelling of the historical conflict with the Native Americans——the primitive culture.

From a technological standpoint, this film is nothing less than stunning. Using motion-capture performance that just seems to evolve with each passing year, the apes are living, breathing characters instead of actors in rubber masks. The small detail in the movements, expressions, and appearance is nothing short of masterful.

And Andy Serkis is still the undisputed king of the motion-capture performance. As the man who showed the world just how innovative the groundbreaking technology can be by bringing such iconic characters as Gollum to life, Serkis has proven countlessly that motion-capture is the future of computer-generated characters. If you thought his Caesar or any of the apes in Rise  was astounding, then Dawn  is the re-revolutionizing of this ever-growing film making tool. Even though the Academy won’t recognize Serkis’ incredible performance, it’s still of an Academy Award-worthy caliber.

Andy Serkisas Caesar_Dawn/Apes

Narratively, the film transcends above the first in nearly every possible way. Just when you start to prematurely place the pieces together and come up with narrative conclusions along the lines of Dances With Wolves and Avatar, the story takes an unexpected turn and goes down a completely different path. You begin to realize it’s not just a film about apes with spears that take over the world. It’s a film about political ideologies and cultural differences and the grave repercussions that distrust can produce. It’s a film that strives to grasp at some form of peace and order in a disorderly world engulfed in chaos.

The way in which the film so perfectly plays this out is through the use of several key human and ape characters. You have Malcolm——the human, and Caesar——the ape, both representing the opposite ethnic civilization but both of whom wish for a peaceful coexistence. Then you have Dreyfus——the human, and Koba——the ape, also representing opposite ethnicity but both of whom display serious distrust for each other and ultimately are responsible for the eventual war that ensues.

But neither are merely substandard antagonists. With Gary Oldman’s character, you realize that he once had a family that died during the plague. Despite the fact that the apes are no more at fault than he is, he represents humanity’s derision for them. But even though he wrongly accuses them, you still sympathize with him and what he’s fighting for.

In a nutshell:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a beautiful, perfectly balanced film with depth and vivacity that far surpasses its predecessor. With stellar motion-capture performances and amazing CGI that truly bring the apes to life, not to mention downright fantastic film making, the bricks are being laid for the eventual Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes  storyline.

8.5 stars

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