Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” movie review
Perhaps The Simpsons said it best, when Troy McClure starred in the musical Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off! By that point, the magic of the original film had long since been tarnished by its sequels — there were four of them — which came fast and furious, each more middling than the last as the creation of this new ape world order was explained by way of a time paradox that put the notion of “the chicken or the egg” to shame.
I’ve no issue with Hollywood attempting to tell the PotA story from a different, more plausible point of view. With 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, director Rupert Wyatt did just that, eking out an emotionally resonant tale of a scientist (James Franco) and Caesar (Andy Serkis, in motion-capture mode), the genetically modified, super-intelligent ape he inadvertently gives rise to. You could forgive the artificial feel of the CGI apes (nothing will ever replace the sheer ingenuity of the original’s makeup) because the core story clutched at the viewer’s emotions as tightly as a hungry chimp clutches a banana.
The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (), directed by Matt Reeves, also grips you, but this time in the jaws of boredom. The CGI has improved, the robust action set-pieces are outsized — both a byproduct of an increased budget — but the movie is written as though clichés were the stuff of Oscar gold.
Ten years have passed and an unimaginable number of intelligent monkeys are doing their business in the Muir Woods, where they’ve displayed talent for grand architectural design. When humans — most of whom were killed by the same man-made virus that allowed the monkeys to evolve — reemerge, battle lines are drawn. Who do you think comes out on top? (Hint: “Planet of the Humans” has no zing.) The movie strives for sociological depth in the peace-loving Caesar’s somber realization that not all apes are good and not all humans are bad. A spider monkey could have written a less obvious screenplay.
Dawn exists solely as a plot mover: it needs to force its major players into position for what is currently known on IMDB as Untitled Planet of the Apes Sequel, a title I pray they keep. Eventually, apes will prevail, develop British accents, and clothe themselves in drab-colored leisure suits. Then, Charlton Heston (or maybe Mark Wahlberg) will arrive from the past to bark that now-legendary imperative, “Get your hands off of me, you damn, dirty ape.”
In 1968, the sight of marauding, talking simians on horseback, wrangling humans, was the stuff of which a 10-year-old’s science fiction dreams are made. It was evolution upended, a Darwinian practical joke. But with the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the joke’s on us.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (rated PG-13 for violence but no monkey business) is now playing at area theaters.
A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
There is always a sense of apprehension and cautious pessimism whenever directors and lead actors get shuffled around in the sequel to a commercially and critically acclaimed successful film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was fighting an uphill battle on both of those accounts, on top of having some worrisome spots in the trailers featuring gun toting apes on horseback. Would this be a cinematic blockbuster with style and substance – similar to its predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes – or would the sequel embrace full-on spectacle?
Thankfully, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and the studios behind the project understood exactly what made the first film such a surprise gem; emotion and the grace to treat the audience to not just a fun time at the movies, but something much deeper below the surface.
Putting that into perspective, when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reaches its boiling point between the humans and intellectually mutated titular apes, the battle scenes of the war actually fill the viewer with sadness, and the sensation that the turmoil could have been avoided, rather than use the war as a vehicle to showcase entertaining and impressive looking action sequences. That’s not to say the action isn’t fun, but like its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to capture a humanistic quality that successfully engages the audience into the story.
Before all of the extended action sequences and Hollywood blockbuster theatrics, the film manages to spend around 90 minutes building its characters – both humans and apes – and the growing tensions between the two factions. Perhaps what is most fascinating is how the film actively tries to subvert cornering its major characters into clichés. Gary Oldman for example plays a leader to the remaining ALZ-113 virus immune survivors, but he isn’t a stereotypical villain that is distrusting of the apes for over-exaggerated reasons. It’s actually a shame he wasn’t given more screen time, because what he does with this time given to flesh out his back-story and motives is phenomenal.
It doesn’t end with just Gary Oldman either, as again pretty much every character pivotal to the eruption of the inevitable war has justifiable reasons for the way they think and their actions. After having witnessed all of the torture Koba had suffered through at the hands of humans in the preceding film, it’s understandable why he may feel betrayed at times in response to Caesar allowing the humans into their homely woods so that they can start up a hydroelectric dam and give the city of San Francisco power. It’s admittedly somewhat of a cliché plot device, but the excellent execution is the difference maker.
When something is given a greater context, it’s simply just easier to look past the fact that part of the plot you are seeing is textbook Hollywood 101. In the case of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s hard not to let your mind wander off into drawing parallels between the escalation of the turmoil between humans and apes, to that of real-life political struggles going on in the world today. Ultimately, you just want to see factions find common ground and band together to collectively make the world a better place, not witness distrust and miscommunication that leads to a never-ending series of violence. And when war unfortunately breaks out, your faith in the human race – or in this case both humans and apes – dwindles a bit. All you’re left with is chaos that could have been avoided if we were more willing to trust each other.
That’s what makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stand out as a provocatively entertaining summer blockbuster, but far from the only reason the film is such a masterpiece. Simply put, this movie has the most stunning CGI ever put forth into a film; if it doesn’t win a few Oscars for special effects something is wrong with the Academy. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only movie in existence where the CGI can actually take the viewer out of the experience, not because the special effects are clearly animated, but because it’s astonishingly unbelievable that you know what you’re seeing isn’t real, yet it may as well be. The apes are seriously that detailed in both their appearance and animation. Furthermore, they are also highly distinguished from one another, making it gloriously simple to tell the difference between say, Caesar and Koba.
The motion capture is truly outstanding, as well as all of the performances from revered motion capture actors such as Andy Serkis. If there were ever a performance to come along that could present a case for a motion captured performance to be eligible for an Oscar, it’s Andy Serkis as Caesar. He will make you feel every struggle, emotion, and challenging decision that must be made.
If you couldn’t tell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more than your average summer blockbuster, it’s a phenomenal piece of socially relevant story-telling that just happens to look gorgeous and be endlessly entertaining. Hail Caesar!