Published on July 10th, 2014 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Full disclosure here: I am a huge fan of the original series of Planet of the Apes movies. I have them on VHS and Laser Disc, having watched them at least a dozen times each. That being said, I didn’t really enjoy 2011’s Rise of the Planet of Apes with James Franco. Not that it was a bad movie, per say, but it didn’t really keep me captivated, so much so that I can barely remember all of the main plot points. At the time I thought that I might be jaded being such a huge fan of the originals. And then I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (we’ll just refer to it as “Dawn” from here on out). I didn’t have very high expectations for Dawn.
Set 10 years after Rise, Dawn sees the world in ruins. Humans are struggling to survive after the Simian virus wreaked havoc on the planet. Living in colonies, they are unaware that there is a growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar. When the apes and the humans discover each other, they both feel threatened, but there is one man, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who sees the compassion in Caesar and thinks that he will allow the humans to attempt work on a nearby dam to restore power to their colony. But dissent in the ranks of both sides of the banana prove to threaten this shaky alliance.
This movie blew me away. With an excellent cast to compliment the CGI apes in the movie, you quickly forget that there is any CGI involved at all. The seamless visuals make you feel like Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) were actually interacting with the apes. The story was also very well done and seemed very plausible for the tattered world that comes about after the apocalyptic event brought on by the Simian virus. Top this all off with a tremendous score, and you have a great movie-going experience. One that definitely lives up to the original movies.
If I had one complaint about this movie, it was the rapid rate at which the apes seemed to evolve in the span of a few days. Although it’s been 10 years since the last movie, in which Caesar did speak, the movie does open with the apes communicating through inaudible language. My first thought was that they are hunt, so they are choosing to communicate in this fashion, but even when they return to their village, they continue with the inaudible, “sign-language” communication. Then over the course of the next three to four days, they slowly bring speech into their communication between themselves and the humans. The big thing is that they seem to struggle with the words at first (even Caesar), and then by the end of the movie, they are holding complete conversations. Just seems a bit rapid to me. But, it was impactful in the progression of the movie. So one small gripe on this is not enough to bring down my opinion of the film.
Here it is again, my friends. Will I buy Dawn when it is released for home consumption? You bet. Unfortunately, it is also going to force me to buy Rise as well. Though, this may not be a bad thing as a second viewing sometimes brings out the good in movies I didn’t like the first time through, especially as I now know what it is building towards. Go see this one in the theaters my friends. And be sure to check it out in 3D also, it was very well done and not overpowering as some movies have been in the past. Though if you have issues with 3D, I am sure it is just as visually appealing in 2D.
4.5 out 5
Second Review by Justin Smith
Hollywood’s apparent regard for reboot franchises continues with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” directed by Matt Reeves and starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, and Gary Oldman. The mouthful title is a sequel to the critically praised and successful “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” from 2011. While ‘reboot’ has remained a polarizing word for moviegoers, Rupert Wyatt overcame the skepticism with a highly entertaining and well-plotted first movie in the planned new franchise. Director of the sequel, Matt Reeves, had arguably a more difficult task: not just capitalize on a great setup from the first film but also surpass it. Sequels often struggle to do this. It’s with so much pleasure then to report that he has done just that. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” might just be the best movie of the summer and one of the most enjoyable movies of the year.
The film takes place several years after the reboot. Humanity has been neigh decimated by the “Simian Flu”, a byproduct of the virus that gave the apes intelligence in the first film. The setting is largely post-apocalyptic. The streets of San Francisco are overrun with greenery and the rag tag group of survivors including Oldman’s Dreyfus, a sort of leader character, Jason Clarke’s Malcom, an engineer set on restoring electric power for his people, and Ellie, Malcom’s love interest and the team’s doctor. The other society focused on is the apes led by Caesar, played absolutely brilliantly by the motion-captured Andy Serkis. He returned from the first film, and his performance is just as stellar. He is joined by Koba, who also returns from the first film, and Caesar’s son Blue Eyes.
The plot is simple, extremely well paced, and completely unburdened with unnecessary subplots. The tightness of this writing is hugely important for this film, as it will keep you completely engaged and never confused. It never strays from the important themes focused on the conflict between two entirely viable societies separated by species but so similar in their flaws. I love a story that can make its villains rise above being evil for the sake of the plot simply needing an antagonist. And this film provides that. Every action committed by the excellently portrayed villain is something understandable yet detestable. It’s the result of flaws that exist in both the human and ape societies: the fear of weakness and the unwillingness to trust those with differences.
That said, the film is not absolutely perfect. The ape story, the dynamics between their characters, overshadows the human counterpart significantly. Especially in the beginning of the film. I found myself far more fascinated in their struggles as a young society than the plight of a dying human one. At least at first. Jason Clarke’s character definitely comes into his own and becomes a likable character, if maybe a bit one-note. He never becomes anywhere close as fascinating as Caesar, but you do get attached to both Malcom and his companion, Ellie. I wish there was more of Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus as well, because Oldman always commands greatness whenever he’s on screen. This is no different, and I feel Dreyfus could have made an extremely compelling character as someone just looking out for the well-being of his endangered people.
Once again, the visual effects in the motion capturing are amazing. It’s easy to overlook just how important this technology is to the industry since we see it so often now. But just as the 1968 “Planet of the Apes” broke ground with performances with prosthetics and practical effects, this franchise breaks ground with motion capture. When you see this film it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the fact that the filmmakers were able to make an audience entirely empathize with computer generated creatures.
The action might not be of the scope of the rest of the summer’s blockbusters. But it’s better for that because it ends up being more intimate. Matt Reeves proves again he can shoot unique and engaging action sequences, as he manages to make a climactic battle featuring an army of apes more gripping than most of what’s been available this summer. Best of all, though, is that this finally feels like a “Planet of the Apes” movie. A fantastic one at that. While “Rise” was a good movie by itself, it really just did the job of setting up the absolute fantastic sequel that “Dawn” absolutely achieves.
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