Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

A DAWN OF GREATNESS


 

The Planet of the Apes movie has been iconic in history of Hollywood movies since its first movie (Planet of the Apes) back in 1968. With its infamous story of intelligent apes that dominate the human race, to its famous lines (“You damn dirty apes!”, etc.), The Planet of the Apes have been a part of cinema history (for better or worse). Back in 2011, director Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a risky move. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes in 2000 rebooted the franchise for a new generation, but was received with a mediocre taste, feeling as if the prime ape franchise acolytes and fans base was snuffed out long ago. However, Rise, which acted like another reboot, elevate the franchise, becoming one of the successful films that year and proved strong enough in popularity to green light a sequel. Three years later, the next chapter in this rebooted saga debuts this summer titled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Does this sequel stand tall or is it just second “Banana” to its predecessor?

THE STORY


Set ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the world has been ravaged by the ALZ-113 virus (The Simian Flu) as a great portion of the human population has been wiped out from either the disease or the collapse of government order into social anarchy. The apes, who escaped from the first film and who now lived in the forest north of San Francisco, have flourished, under the leadership of their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) , and created an ape city for their evolving race. However, their tranquil existence is disrupted when a scouting party of humans, lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) enters their forest dwelling; looking for new power source to generate electricity from for their small cluster of desperate human survivors, who take have taking up refuge in the now abandoned city of San Francisco. Caesar, who is still wary of humans (But takes pity on them), agrees to help Malcolm and his team and establishes a sort of peace between the two races. This, of course, draws ire from Caesar’s aggressive comrade Koba (Toby Kebbell) as he begins to undermine Caesar’s authority and threatens their civilization (And temporary truce with the humans) with war against Malcolm’s leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman).

THE GOOD / THE BAD


In truth, I never really cared for the Planet of the Apes movies. Of the original movies, I saw the first two and snippets / parts of the others ones and didn’t have a liking to it. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes I saw and I thought it was okay (still not enough to peak my interest). However, when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, it stirred my interest in seeing it. My thoughts on it the movie were good, believing to be the best in franchise so far as the movie display the origins (And rise) of the apes. The film gave me the anticipation needed to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes when it came out in theaters (and thank god for that). Dawn, under my belief, is downright entertaining and probably one of the best Planet of the Apes to date.

One of the most interesting things I notice while watching the movie was its pacing. In general, summer movies, playing fast and furious with pace, try to immediately grab with elaborate “Balls to the Wall” action and sequences. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes starts with a slow simmer with a haunted opening sequence (explaining the cataclysmic events of the virus), which does grab your attention, and then allows you to focus your attention on the movie protagonist ape Caesar. The humans don’t actually show up until a good fifteen minutes into the film, allowing the filmmakers devote time to Caesar and his ape, exploring their culture, lifestyle, and their new fundamental language (a mixture of sign language and short broken English dialogue). As the film progresses, the pace slowly builds, allowing viewers to soak up the mood and dynamics of these two surviving races before the third act of the movie comes along and explodes with a fantastic cinematic confrontation.

Cinematically speaking, Dawn is gorgeous looking. Michael Seresin, the movie’s cinematographer, must be mentioned as the views and angles of the feature are very pronounced and defining, making Dawn reach cinematic heights within its dystopian world. Coinciding with that, the film’s set pieces are vast and expansive, but don’t overpower the characters on-screen (whether human or CG rendered visuals), acting as what they are “set pieces” to an epic spectacle of a movie.  Lastly, the movie’s musical score, composed by Michael Giacchino, is great, with sweeping flourishes, haunting melodies, and bombastic percussions to help drive the mood of the movie. In short, in almost of technical terms of moviemaking, Dawn looks, feels, and sound incredible.

The story itself is also both quite interesting and compelling. Director Matt Reeves, famous for directing the movie Cloverfield, takes what was established in the previous film and builds upon it, but doesn’t really go “Over the top” with its references and superfluous nods to past films. We see Caesar with his family; caring for his wife and newborn son, while trying to mentor his young son and leading his people. The character of Malcolm is in the same boat as Caesar, caring for his wife Ellie played Keri Russell and her son Alex played by Kodi Smith-McPhee, while also trying to preserve his surviving group of humans. It is also interesting that there’s a turning point in the movie. If you know the premise of the Planet of the Apes movies, then you know that apes will one day rule world with mankind mostly wipeout and enslaved. This movie shows where (in all possibility) that humans and apes could’ve co-existed in a one last attempt in peace. I think its poignant idea, one that’s conveyed on-screen brilliantly. Touching and riveting, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows viewers that it doesn’t have to be a dumb “popcorn” flick to be a summer movie.

As the human actors go, Jason Clarke shines the best. Regularly cast in movies as a supporting role, Clarke gets upgraded to a main character and his interaction with Caesar is a strong dynamic in the film’s narrative. The other actors, though relatively good, are underserved and one of the negative points about the movie. An example of this is Gary Oldman who plays Dreyfus, Malcolm’s leader of the group that takes refuge in the ruined city of San Francisco. His character has a small role in the film (think like his role in Lawless), but gets moments to shine at various parts. The same goes for Keri Russell’s Ellie, who (like Oldman) serves the film in minor capacity, but gets the job done.

As for the apes, Andy Serkis as Caesar is amazing. Being a true master of motion capturing (which he is known for), Serkis brings the character to life with such authenticity and believability that it makes you wonder if Serkis will be nominated at the Oscars for his performance of Caesar.  Giving Serkis a run for his time, Toby Kebbell is also worth mentioning as the aggressive ape Koba, who was alongside Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Kebbell replaces the original actor (Christopher Gordon) in the role of Koba and brings to life a very memorable antagonist for viewers to love to hate. Lastly, the minds behind WETA digital have truly outdone themselves with the design of all the apes in the movie as well as other visual wizardry throughout the film.

It’s also to be noted that the other actors and actresses in the movie, including Judy Greer, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, and Kirk Acevedo, deserve credit for the bringing the support characters to life (whether ape or human).

FINAL THOUGHTS


Rather than flinging a relentless bombardment of action scenes and dosing the screen with superfluous “gimmicks” and nuances that usually curtail to a summer blockbuster, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes finds a better balance than most. Even though its stumbles and a little problematic at certain points, the film is tantalizing with great motion captured performances and terrific visuals that captures this sci-fi tale with sophistication and emotional heart. It’s truly a great follow-up to both its predecessor and The Planet of the Apes franchise. If you’re not a fan of the Apes movies, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will definitely make you one. The big question is how 20th Century Fox will follow-up this movie? Where will the next film go is still uncertain. Will Caesar be in it? Will it place immediately following this movie or further into the future? Will it be the final installment? Whatever the outcomes, I personally will be eagerly looking forward to what will materialize when Apes 3 comes out in the coming years.

4.6 Out of 5 (Highly Recommend)

 

Released On: July 11th, 2014

Reviewed On: July 12th, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes  is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

4 comments

  • Great review! These films feel like 1970’s blockbusters, back at a time when SFX were used as a tool to tell the story, as opposed to being the reason the films exist.

    • Oh, I completely agree with you on that. Yes, the visuals helped the movie (making a viewer believe in the apes), but its the performance by them actors that make it stand out (Serkis and Kebell especially). Nowadays, some movies rely too much on SFX.

  • If someone had told me ten years ago that there would be not one, but two new Planet of the Apes films that would have a great impact on me, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. But here we are, and what a reboot this has become. The original is still my favourite, but “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is just a hair’s breadth away from its magnificence. Superb review Jason!

    • Oh, of course, the original movie is still good. But I was never a huge fan of the Apes movies. But yeah, Dawn was just a great movie to watch.

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