Today’s Movie Review – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

As a child of the ’90s (for the most part), I missed out on many of the original Planet of the Apes movies. And since most of them were, from what I have seen, cheesy movies with bad costuming, I don’t think that I have gone back and watched even the original Planet of the Apes from 1968. I think my basic understanding of the plot comes from one of two sources: the horrible 2001 Tim Burton reboot and the classic Simpsons episode “A Fish Called Selma,” where Troy McClure (RIP Phil Hartman) gets back in Hollywood’s good graces by marrying Selma and playing Charlton Heston character in the stage musical version of Apes. Some of the best songs ever in a Simpsons episode, even if you can’t really find them on the internet anywhere.

Nevertheless, I am fully invested in the series reboot. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of my favorite movies of 2011, and I saw a lot of movies that year. I don’t usually like James Franco, but he brought just the right amount to that film, but the true star was Andy Serkis as Caesar, the main ape of both films. The art of motion capture doesn’t really receive enough credit in today’s movie landscape, but maybe that perception will start to shift with the great “mo cap” performances in Dawn, though Serkis was nominated for, and won a few, minor film awards for his performance as Caesar in the first movie and other previous movies, including a couple of the Lord of the Ring films.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

Dawn starts with a quick rundown of what has happened since the outbreak of the “simian flu” in the first movie with a quick voice over and video clips of the calamity caused when ALZ-133, the Alzheimer’s disease cure Franco was working on in the first movie, is released on humans.* The affected apes have retreated to the woods outside San Francisco where Franco and friends left them, building a society with fancy tree houses and organized hunting parties to bring down local fauna.

*If you want to watch some excellent short films produced to show what happened in the interceding period, I suggest you take a look at them here.

From the trailer, it’s obvious that it won’t be only about the apes, and the apes decide to head into San Francisco after one of the human survivors named Carver (Kirk Acevedo) freaks out and shoots and wounds Ash, an ape and friend of Blue Eyes, Caesar’s son. The humans were in the woods looking to restore power using the hydroelectric dam, and after a show of force (depicted in the first part of the trailer above), Caesar asks the humans to stay in San Francisco and that the apes will stay in the woods.

Unfortunately, the humans, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman in all his scene-stealing glory) really need power because they are running out of fuel and they need electricity to find other potential survivors in the world. This leads our main human protagonist Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to return to the woods and treat with Caesar, asking to be allowed to restore the power so that the human can survive. Caesar allows them to do so, as long as they surrender their guns, which the apes destroy.

Well, wouldn’t you know it that Carver sneaks a shotgun in, which Caesar finds accidentally, and he’s not happy. But after Ellie (Keri Russell) helps Caesar’s wife Cornelia recover from an infection (I’m assuming) after the birth of their second child, Caesar allows Malcolm and crew – minus Carver – to finish repairing the dam. Meanwhile, Caesar’s second-in-command Koba (the excellent Toby Kebbell) is back in San Francisco spying on, and ultimately stealing some guns from, the survivors, primarily because he distrusts humans due to his experiences in the lab that started this all.

At this point, the movie heads to territory not quite covered in the trailer, so I won’t continue as to avoid spoilers. Obviously, there’s going to be an event that leads to setting up an already announced sequel, which has some far reaching consequences for both our apes and humans. As to what happens next time time around, I have a feeling it will be in line with the story of the original Planet of the Apes movie, which is what the third movie is tentatively titled. Maybe the astronauts that went to space in Rise will return to Earth? I guess we’ll find out in July 2016.

A lot of the reviews of this movie mention that the rendering of the apes is so lifelike that it’s hard to remember that they are all CGI. I would agree with that. The use of motion capture for many of the main apes is a great touch, giving some real “humanity” to all of them. Serkis probably will not receive the credit he deserves as the lead in this movie because he is computer generated, but the movie wouldn’t work without him or the other actors playing the apes.

Maybe this will be the year that people that vote on the Academy Awards will appreciate that the technological evolution of a film like this doesn’t remove the humanity from it. When Caesar finds the video tape of him with Franco’s character from the first movie, it is an emotional scene, primarily because of the music obviously, but also because Serkis plays the scene so beautifully. Great stuff all around, though on minor complaint would be the lack of development of most of the humans, but then again, it’s not called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Plus Human Survivalists Survive).

I encourage everyone to go out and watch this movie in theaters. I personally watched it in 3D, which wasn’t distracting, but I also like the larger screens that most 3D films use. If you can watch Rise again (or for the first time) before watching, it will enhance the experience but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary. That one can be a bit long in places anyway. Nevertheless, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in the early lead for most enjoyable of the summer thus far (sorry Transformers: Age of Extinction), though I’m sure Guardians of the Galaxy will replace it in a few weeks.

Until next time…


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