Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

7 Overall Score
Acting: 7/10
Direction: 7/10
Effects: 7/10

Unforgettable action set pieces and some pretty adept cultural and philosophical commentary.

Can we get a few more ladies involved in the Simian Revolution?!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Kerri Russell
20th Century Fox
2014

If there was anything lacking in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes–a film that, much to nearly everyone’s surprise, was a commercial and critical success–it was that the human B-Story often seemed to try and wedge itself into the more interesting simian A-Story. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, puts the apes front-and-center, and never slows down to let the boring humans pick up the pace.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes occurs ten years after its 2011 predecessor; the “simian flu” has nearly wiped humanity off of the planet, save for a small percentage of the population who are genetically immune to the disease. Andy Serkis returns to play Cesar, the lead ape from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, who was last seen leading a band of super smart chimps, gorillas and orangoutangs across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Redwood Forest. Serkis is as good as expected, exceeding even his best performance as Kong in the otherwise bland Peter Jackson King Kong reboot. Much of his nuanced performance can be attributed to the improvement of the motion-capture from the first film. The apes are painstakingly crafted and some of the oversights and blemishes from Rise have been eliminated, creating a much more cohesive universe of believable apes. However, the CGI suffers a bit when creatures are inserted into the film without the benefit of a human operated mo-cap suit. Early in the film, Cesar does battle with a grizzly bear and while the scene is compelling, the computer generated imagery comes into sharp focus. Later in the film, Cesar’s infant son makes an appearance and the CGI becomes painstakingly obvious as actual human actors struggle to act against a character that isn’t physically present.

Other than the Quicksilver sequence in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes boasts some of the most spectacular actions scenes of the summer. Whether it be a chimp with machine guns in both hands as he charges into battle on horseback, or an ape-on-ape brawl thousands of feet above the ground, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has multiple Price-of-Admission action sequences. Matt Reeves, director of the underrated sci-fi spectacle Cloverfield, is able to bring a grander and more cinematic feel to the action scenes, doubling down on Wyatt’s climactic Golden Gate Bridge sequence from the first film.

A decade after the events in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cesar has led the apes into the forest and into a budding civilization. The apes have flourished: they live in homes, use tools and weapons and have full means of communication. But when a band of survivors tread into the apes’ habitat, war threatens to break out between ape and human. The original 1968 Planet of the Apes was a perfect metaphor for the times, encapsulating tension brought forth by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War and presenting them in a beautiful sci-fi allegory. Reeves, just as Wyatt has done with Rise, is able to capture some of the same immediacy and cultural relativism that made the original film so iconic. When war threatens the apes, Cesar is forced to decide between preemptive warfare or diplomacy, a difficult philosophical choice that has plagued the United States in post 9/11 society. However, the film does have difficulty assigning a villain in its philosophical quandaries; frequently shifting back and forth between various villainous possibilities before never quite settling on one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does continue an upsetting trend in this year’s blockbusters–seen previously in Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past, among others–of taking talented actresses and making them nothing more than shallow background. Keri Russell, who is nothing short of astounding on FX’s The Americans, is cast as Ellie, one of the human survivors. Other than a few lines of exposition and standing on the sidelines, cheering on the men of the film, she gets to do very little. Likewise, Cesar’s mate is portrayed by the unceasingly delightful Judy Greer, in mo-cap suit, but she’s given less time than Russell. The re-boot of the Apes franchise has proven to be smart and sensitive in its outlook towards humanity, though I can’t quite embrace its portrayals (or warnings) of mankind’s destiny if it continues to see the world as a place for only the males of any given species.

If there was one universal truth after Tim Burton’s miserably awful Planet of the Apes reboot in 2001, it was that the Apes franchise was as dead as it once was vibrant. It seemed unlikely that ten years later, the franchise would not only be given another chance in the court of public opinion, but would flourish at the box office and with critics. But somehow, against all odds, that’s exactly what happened. And Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, despite its shortcomings, proves that Rise wasn’t a fluke; the Apes are here to stay.

 

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Craig Schroeder
Author: Craig Schroeder View all posts by
I am a graduate of Florida State University, studying Creative Writing and History. Right now I work a desk job but I dream all day of making a living writing comics. I formed an indie label based in Tallahassee called Gentleman Baby Comics and HIT! is our debut comic. I read a lot of comics. I watch a lot of movies. I drink too much soda. I love a great television show.

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