Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback
Starring: Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston
Three years ago, Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised audiences by delivering a thrilling reboot of the campy film franchise. The origin story introduced us to Caesar, a chimpanzee brought up from birth by a research scientist after his mother is euthanized following a botched Alzheimer’s serum experiment. Caesar possessed many of the traits he inherited from his mother, including superior intelligence and strength.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place ten years later. A worldwide Simian Flu pandemic has eradicated most of the human population. A sizable assortment of apes lives as a community in the woods outside of San Francisco, and they have seen no sign of human life for at least two years. Their peaceful lives are shattered when a group of humans from San Francisco stumble into their terrain while trying to access a dam that might be utilized to power their flailing city population. A trigger-happy member of the crew injures one of the apes, prompting immediate suspicion and distrust on the part of the ape community.
The group quickly finds out that this is no ordinary population of monkeys and is shocked to find out that Caesar can talk. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) pleads his case to Caesar (Andy Serkis) assuring him they mean no harm; they are only seeking a power source. Caesar reluctantly agrees to let them go about their business under the watchful eye of the apes, much to the chagrin of Koba (Toby Kebbell) who harbors deep resentment toward all humans. And thus begins a short-lived truce between the two species.
Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, a relatively small population led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) resides in an old building. Dreyfus agrees to leave the apes alone, but has a group of soldiers and a stockpile of weapons ready to go at a moments notice. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take much to ignite either side. A faction of apes (led by Koba) serves as the impetus for a showdown between man and beast and a thrilling fight to the death between Koba and Caesar to determine what philosophy the apes will adhere to when it comes to the humans. Will they choose peaceful coexistence or will they elect to rise and conquer?
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) utilized actors in motion-capture suits to portray the main primate characters and the results are amazing. A chimpanzee gnashing his teeth and bearing a spear atop a galloping black horse is truly terrifying, and much more effective than the human/primate hybrids from the older movies. These apes are menacing. When a group of the apes descends upon Malcolm early in the movie, it’s bone chilling. As far as the set pieces go, the special effects are flawless. Reeves seamlessly melds the motion-capture characters with the special effects and it’s simply exhilarating to watch.
There’s plenty of action to be had in Dawn, but the big surprise is the complexity of the underlying themes of the film. Dawn touches on greed, intolerance, reactionary fear and war. But Dawn also exhibits a lot of humanity, particularly through the maternal actions of Ellie (Keri Russell), a medic who doesn’t discriminate between species.
Dawn is a must see this summer. You won’t find a better bang for your buck, and it will likely end up on a lot of top ten lists for 2014. Spring for the IMAX 3D if you can. It’s worth it. – Shannon