DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES IS THAT RAREST OF CREATURES, A SMART AND STYLISH SCI-FI SEQUEL THAT BUILDS ON THE STRENGTHS AND SUCCESS OF ITS PREDECESSOR
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Toby Kebbell
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Running Time: 2 Hrs, 10 Mins
I had to admit, I was nervous about this one. 2011’s Rise of the Planet of Apes was my favourite movie of that year, and even though I was never that into the Charlton Heston originals (to be honest, as a little kid they creeped me out more then a bit) and I refuse to even talk about Tim Burton’s 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg, I loved the storytelling efforts that went into director Rupert Wyatt’s reimagined franchise as well as the spectacular work behind not only bringing the titular apes to life, but also making them so life-like. So genuine. Having said all that, I was nervous that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be, as sequels so often are, a disappointment. Sometimes being wrong is awesome.
Dawn takes place a full decade after Rise, and the virus was revealed during Rise’s end credits was dubbed the simian flu and has swept the globe, killing the majority of the human race. What little bits of humanity the flu didn’t get fell upon itself with violent, cannibalistic zeal, pushing human beings to the edge of extinction. The genetically enhanced apes, meanwhile, have quietly built a home in the woods around San Francisco, their numbers growing and thriving under the guidance of Caesar (Andy Serkis) while the human world burned and crumbled into ruin around them. That is until a chance encounter in the woods between a handful of desperate human survivors and apes brings the two worlds colliding violently together. Caesar and humans Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell) find themselves forging a reluctant trust and trying to preserve a fragile peace threatened by bigotry and hate on both sides. It isn’t long before Caesar faces challenges to his authority by vengeful members of his tribe while the human sympathizers find themselves trying to overcome intolerance among the human survivors.
Screen writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and the rest of their team are given freedom to explore not only the characters in their story, but also the themes inherent in it, (a rarity in any summer film). Can mere mortals, be they Ape or Human, overcome the forces of hate, bigotry and prejudice? Instead of harshly compromising the stronger elements of the story, director Matt Reeves compliments the flow and nuance of the script, letting the story unfold unrushed, injecting moments of powerful emotion and touching sensitivity wherever needed to make this fantasy world of humans and apes authentic and believable. And while the story is allowed to evolve, Dawn doesn’t shy away from action, rather using violence as another tool to motivate the plot. The special effects required to make the apes so convincing are jaw dropping (these apes don’t look like mere digital mirages cast on screen, rather like you could actually reach out and touch them) and if Andy Serkis doesn’t receive some Oscar love for his portrayal of Caesar, then the Academy needs a swift kick in the posterior. Serkis creates a leader of dignity and strength and tragic grace and by the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes you’re convinced that Caesar is better then any human leader the real world offers today. Torn between the overpowering instinct to protect his family and tribe as well as his distrust of humans and the wisdom that he needs to avoid war at almost any cost, Caesar is a one of the best characters you’re likely to see in any movie this summer. You’re so consumed watching Serkis’ Caesar (and his violent ape counterpart Koba, played brilliantly by Tony Kebbell) that you forget that Gary Oldman’s even in this movie.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and it’s the kind of smart, entertaining summer blockbuster we need more of. It was an excellent pallet cleanser to the likes of Transformers (which I very, very reluctantly liked) and should be a model for sequel making. Dawn is genuinely the second chapter in a larger story and its apparent the filmmakers had a well thought out plan heading into these movies, one they’re carefully crafting and executing. I can hardly wait for the promised third (and final?) movie and deep down, I’m hoping for a TV presence tailored by the same producers (you listening HBO?) Going into this move I was expecting to side with the apes, but one of the ideas that it so elegantly pursues is that there is no winner in war, that war is a tragedy in and of itself. And that hate has a long memory, that it takes more strength then we sometimes have to forgive and even the best of us can fail to protect us from ourselves. The acts that set the eventual, inevitable war between the two sides into motion resemble tactics used by various governments and administrations to sell unnecessary and pointless wars to voting publics. Dawn isn’t just excellent entertainment, but it turns out to be a brilliant, thought provoking reflection of the chaotic, often unforgiving but sometimes beautiful world we inhabit outside the movie theatre.