Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by: Matt Reeves.
Written by: Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver inspired by the novel by Pierre Boulle.
Starring: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Jon Eyez (Foster), Enrique Murciano (Kemp), Larramie Doc Shaw (Ash).

Before I saw the 2011 film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I felt like it would be another unnecessary reboot of the popular franchise from the 1960s and 1970s – much like the 2001 Tim Burton “reimagining” of the original film was. But the film was surprisingly good – inarguably the best Planet of the Apes movie since the 1968 original (and some of the sequels in the 1970s are better than you think they are) – and perhaps even better than that. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is even better – and I feel quite safe in saying that this is the best movie in the series so far. It takes its premise seriously, deepens everything that was special about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and also gives you all the action you could want in a summer blockbuster involving monkeys who ride on horses and fire machines guns. In a surprisingly good summer for large scale movies (if not box office returns for them) – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best so far – and one of the best movies of the year so far.

A quick montage at the beginning of the film establishes what has happened since the end of the last film – the “Simian Flu” – has wiped out almost all of humanity – the survival rate being approximately 1 in 500. We then flash the Caesar (Andy Serkis) who along with his fellow apes have established an ape utopia in the forest outside of San Francisco. It’s been 10 years since the last time, and the apes haven’t even seen a human in 2 years. That isn’t going to last much longer however. Humans are coming to the apes – they need to get to a damn near their home to hopefully get the power back in San Francisco for the survivors gathered there. While some apes want war – Caesar doesn’t. Nor does he really want anything to do with the humans however. He hopes that they’ll stay where they are, and the apes can stay where they are – separate, but happy. It’s not to be however. There are those on both sides who seem hell-bent on war – Koba (Tobey Kebbell) – the horribly scarred ape that Caesar rescued in the first film – doesn’t think humans can be trusted at all. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) – who has been elected leader for the survivors – will do anything to survive further, and get the power back. It’s up to Caesar and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) – a human who wants what Caesar wants – to stave off the war. I’m sure you can tell where this is headed.

Watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I found it impossible not to relate to the apes – particularly Caesar – more than the humans. Even the human “hero” of the first film – played by James Franco – is a doctor who is not above using chimps as test subjects, injecting them with potentially dangerous drugs. Every other human in the movie (I guess aside from John Lithgow and Frieda Pinto) is even worse. When you saw the film from their point of view, it was impossible not to side with them as an oppressed people who rise up heroically against their torturers. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes complicates this more than first film – as it switches back and forth between the apes and the human survivors, the film draw parallels between the two societies, and makes you see both sides. There really aren’t any real villains in the film – given what Koba went through, his rage at humans makes sense (even if he’ll take it too far) – and what Dreyfuss proposes makes sense as well given the information he has at his disposal – (even if he’ll take it too far as well). Yes, Caesar and Malcolm represent the better options, but the other side makes sense as well.

Andy Serkis is just as good in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as he was in the first film (which I thought he deserved an Oscar nomination for) – particularly as the movie goes along, and he becomes more conflicted about his role. The movie adds another great performance under motion capture wizardry – by Tobey Kebbell as Koba, who becomes an evil character, but one who’s evil makes sense. The human actors are fine – particularly Oldman and Clarke – but its these two who deliver the best work in the film.

The film was directed by Matt Reeves – taking over from Rupert Wyatt – and it’s his best film yet (and I’m a fan of both Cloverfield and Let Me In). The special effects are a step above the original film, and there are a number of stunning shots in the film – an extended shot from a tank turret taken over by Koba, a tracking shot through the subway that recalls Children of Men. This combined with the more complicated screenplay, makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a better film than Rise of the Planet of the Apes – which was the best blockbuster of 2011. This is the best one of 2014 so far.

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