DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
2014, PG-13, 130 mins.
2014, PG-13, 130 mins.
Andy Serkis as Caesar / Jason Clarke as Malcolm / Gary Oldman as Dreyfus / Keri Russell as Ellie / Toby Kebbell as Koba / Kodi Smit-McPhee as Alexander / Kirk Acevedo as Carver / Judy Greer as Cornelia /
Directed by Matt Reeves / Written by Scott Z. Burns, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver
2011’s RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES had the unenviable and thankless task of rebooting one of the most iconic film franchises in motion picture history, especially coming in the wake of Tim Burton’s decidedly so-so 2001 retrofitted effort. Amazingly, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a rather effective re-imagining of the origins of the man versus damn, dirty, talking ape genre, which combined cutting edge visual effects and empowered storytelling to leave a refreshingly lasting impression.
Now comes DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the sequel to RISE – and the eighth PLANET OF THE APES film since the franchise began in 1968 – and it not only successfully carries forward the great elements of its antecedent, but also propels the story forward in provocative new directions.
also just might be the finest cinematic APES film yet.
RISE OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES introduced us to Caesar (in a virtuoso motion
capture performance of startling nuance by Andy Serkis, returning in
DAWN), the San Franciscan chimp raised by a kindly research scientist
that possessed mental faculties far beyond normal simians.
By the end of the film – and after being encaged with his ape
brethren for far too long - Caesar emerged from being an adorable pet to a
fully realized militant resistance fighter, staging a massive revolt
against humanity. DAWN OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES takes us 10 years into the future as Caesar has
become the de facto leader of his species. They all live in the Muir Woods north of San Francisco, where
they have developed a remarkably sophisticated culture and society (many
can read and write, whereas some, including Caesar and a few of his
underlings, can speak).
As for the
humans? Caesar and his clan
have developed a deep seeded distrust of mankind, which is one of the
reasons for them living in solitude away from them for a decade.
Humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction via a killer
“simian virus” that was spawned by research on the apes themselves.
Nevertheless, the last pockets of humanity detest the apes as much
as they detest humans, which have kept them both at a rather large
distance. A small band of San Francisco dwellers, led by Dreyfus (Gary
Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), struggle to survive and restore
electrical power to what remains of their city.
In order for them to fully restore power, the humans must travel
into the Ape populated woods. Predictably,
apes and humans do indeed have an initial hostile confrontation, but
Malcolm is a cool headed pacifist that feels that nurturing
relations with Caesar and his apes can be reached.
Dreyfus, on the other hand, has an itchy trigger finger for wanting
to wage war and eradicate the apes.
One of Caesar’s most loyal followers, Koba (Toby Kebbell), is
arguably no better than Dreyfus, and seems hell bent of doing just about
anything to eliminate humans once and for all…even if it means betraying
his beloved leader. War seems
Reeves (CLOVERFIELD and the
underrated LET ME IN) has replaced
RISE’s Rupert Wyatt to helm this sequel, and it’s immediate how much
stock Reeves places in establishing mood and atmosphere first well before
throwing mindless action and spectacle on the screen, something that far
too many summer tentpole films conspire to do.
Rather wisely, we don’t see any human characters until the first
act of the film is well under way, which allows audiences to soak of the marvelously
envisioned ape society on display. This
also creates a sensation of impending dread and unease, seeing as the film
builds a slow-burn level of tension towards the first human/ape standoff.
Considering that the ape society here is largely mute and
communicates with sign language (for the most part), Reeves is able to
fully develop his ape personas with as much depth and feeling as any
more remarkable is that the apes are, after all, the product of computer
generated fakery. Alas, there
are real flesh and blood performances underneath all of the CGI makeup
that are fully conveyed and realized. Caesar himself remains a bravura cinematic creation, and for
as meticulously detailed and rendered as he was in the first film, this
sequel’s iteration of the character reaches new pioneering levels of
filmmaking technical art. Caesar
and his companions are the most breathtakingly authentic motion captured
characters I’ve ever witnessed, and Reeves and his visual effects
artisans have reached new upper echelons of their craft in conveying the
sense that we are eavesdropping on real creatures, not pixelized ones.
This is also assisted by the fact that Reeves and cinematographer
Michael Seresin shot the film in real tangible locations (the forests of
Vancouver, making a more than passable substitute for Californian forests)
that helps add a layer of veracity to this effects heavy work.
It’s easy to
overlook, though, the colossal performance achievement behind the
awe-inspiring ape effects. For as incredible as the apes are rendered, it’s really
Andy Serkis – and a squadron of dedicated motion caption performers –
that truly bring out the personalities of these characters. It’s through Serkis that Caesar becomes the true emotional
focal point of the film, and we see him progress from the idealistic rebel
warrior in the first film to a more grounded, contemplative, and guarded
sage-like leader/protector of his family and people.
It’s only foreseeable, perhaps, that the human characters take a
back seat to their ape counterparts, but DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
stocks itself with strong character actors like Clarke and Oldman to give
the film a finer human interest slant than the previous entry.
The pair make for an effective character foil to one another,
seeing as Malcolm strives to forge ties with the apes and Dreyfus only
wishes for their demise. Dreyfus
isn't as much of a one-dimensional sadist as he would have been in a lesser
film; his actions perpetrated versus the apes are born more out of
uncertain and fear than pure maliciousness. He
occupies one of the film’s more tender moments when he tearfully reacts
to his iPad turning back on – after power has been restored –
revealing pictures of his loved ones long since dead.
memorable examples of sci-fi, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is more
intriguingly idea and theme-centric than it is an action film.
There’s a wit and sophistication to the storytelling here that
matches and compliments its astonishing effects.
The film not only finds inspiration in the themes of disparaging
racial discrimination that can be felt as far back in the original apes
films, but it also has ample things to say about the nature of gun
violence beyond its core message of humanity's inability to coexist with ape civilization. Dreyfus’s
clan stockpiles weapons in preparation for war, whereas Caesar believes in
the nobility of peace, diplomacy, and law.
Yet, when Koba’s semi-irrational, semi-justified hatred of
mankind gets the better of him, he too becomes the same kind gun loving,
shoot first, ask questions later malevolent force that typifies Dreyfus.
Earlier apes films went out of their way to paint humans as the
black and white antagonists; in this film it's far more rewardingly and
Of course, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES culminates with a violent hell and brimstone battle between militant apes and militant humans, but it surprisingly ends less with jubilant victory than it does with wounded melancholy on both sides as to what’s to come (it also brilliantly sets up future installments). I was stunned by how much I enjoyed RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, but I’m even more elated by how DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a much richer, more thoughtful, more visually stunning, and more emotionally resonant follow-up entry. It unequivocally proves that the science fiction genre is far from dead and still – in an age populated by summer films of sound and fury signifying nothing – can marry eye-popping visual effects, dynamically confident performances, assured storytelling, and involving themes that speak towards present day woes. Considering the apocalyptic bleakness on display here, this franchise has a resoundingly bright future ahead.