Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

By Dustin Brewer

Standing out amongst the typical summer fair (looking at you ‘Trans4mers’) “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” excels as not just a technical masterpiece, but a well-written, directed and acted film that hits you from every direction.

You don’t see it coming but by the time the credits roll on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” you’ll realize that you had more of a vested interest and emotional connection with the apes than with most humans you’ll see in any other film this year.

Picking up 10 years after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” ended, the “Simian Flu” has spread throughout the world and decimated the human population and in San Francisco, a group led by Dreyfuss (played by the always fantastic Gary Oldman) trying to recapture even a bit of the past. Meanwhile Caesar, (even more advanced than he was in “Rise”) has cultivated an entire society of the intelligent apes where he acts as leader. In a breathtaking scene early on, Caesar comforts his wife as she births their second son. That all changes though when a small group of humans wander into their civilization and the tenuous peace becomes even more strained between the two sides.

The human  survivors are running low on fuel, which, when it runs out will take with it all the electricity and the humans fear that when it runs out, they’ll revert back to a caveman-esque society. Their only hope is an abandoned dam that when repaired, can replace the diesel generators they’ve been using for power. The apes fear that when the humans get electricity back, they’ll begin attacking the apes to eliminate them, but Caesar is also convinced that letting them pass through and work uninterrupted is the only shot at showing the humans that the apes mean no harm and just want to live in peace.

The film shows the struggles and progress from both the apes and humans, blurring the line between who is the hero and who is the villain.

That said, both sides do have what can be considered villains. For the humans, one of Dreyfuss’ crew members, Carver, seems to just hate the apes and sees them as inferior while one of the apes from “Rise,” Koba, can’t trust humans after being experimented on and tortured by them in labs for years.

As we’ve seen in the trailers, things eventually come to a head and the apes and humans break out in a war that you can’t help but think could’ve been avoided and even though the action is exhilarating, it’s somber as characters we’ve seen just try to survive are killed over something that could’ve so easily been avoided.

Andy Serkis again plays Caesar and at some point soon somebody better give him an Academy Award because what he can do with just his body movements and facial expressions is astonishing.

On the human side, Jason Clarke is stellar as Malcolm (stepping in as male-lead in place of James Franco who appears here in a very brief, stock-footage cameo) finds himself wanting the same thing Caesar wants; a safe place to live in peace and raise and protect his family. Gary Oldman as Dreyfuss though is really the human actor that matches Caesar in terms of intensity and eventually, he garners your sympathy as you learn that all he wants is to protect the people in his civilization like he couldn’t before.

Yes the story is good, it plays to the right emotions, builds tension in the right spots and the action set pieces get bigger and bigger but, as expected, the CGI is stunning and worth the price of admission alone. The realism in their eyes and faces of the apes is astonishing, but the way they move and swing through the trees, the environments are great and even other animals look amazing.

Everyone was shocked when “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was announced, but after it was released to glowing reviews as well as box office success the talk of sequel began immediately, possibly leading to a remake of “Planet of the Apes” but no one thought the sequel would be anywhere near as good as “Rise” was.

But now, not only as this new series of “Apes” films become the most successful installments the franchise has ever seen, but they’ve also quickly become some of the smartest actions films in recent memory. With another film slated for July, 2016, speculation will surely run rampant as to if it will finally be the inevitable “Planet of the Apes” remake and if/when it is announced, some fans will surely be upset that yet another classic film is getting remade, but it’s been made pretty clear that the casts and crews of these films respect the original films more than anyone and no matter how high the public raises their expectations, it won’t be higher than what they’ve set for themselves.

 

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