DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, and brief Strong Language

DawnApes poster

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Starring: Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Andy Serkis, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

I never loved the original PLANET OF THE APES series. Originally based on the French novel by Pierre Boulle and scripted by TWILIGHT ZONE creator Rod Serling, the 1968 film may be a noted classic in the science fiction genre, but plays out like a feature-length TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Plenty of sequels followed and a slightly underrated remake by Tim Burton attempted to jump-start the franchise again. When Fox announced a reboot/prequel in 2011, it seemed like this project was doomed from the start. After all, how can you make a solid story out of a scenario that we all know ends in such a nihilistic fashion? RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES surprised everyone and was one of the best films that the 2011 summer season had to offer. DAWN has the same end result. Not only is this one of the year’s best summer blockbusters (so far, it’s on the same level of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST for me), but one of the best films of 2014 so far. Who knew it could happen?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

A decade after the Simian flu (released in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) has wiped out most of humanity, Caesar and his fellow apes have formed a civilization of their own. Contact with humans has been nonexistent, but that’s about to change. A group of survivors in the crumbled remains of San Francisco are desperate for a power source to communicate with the outside world and their only hope lies in a dam near the ape village. A man named Malcolm and a small group try to form a peaceful co-existence with the apes to get the power supply running in a few days’ time. Forces on both sides push things in negative directions. Tensions rise between and within both simians and humans. Needless to say that you already know where things wind up in PLANET OF THE APES and this is one step closer to that horrible fate.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, from left: Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a story that doesn’t follow any specific formula that could be considered predictable from frame one, but has just enough familiarity to make everything being viewed play out in an enjoyable “I think I know where this might be going” way. The entire experience is a blast a kin to something like (it’s already been mentioned in plenty of other reviews and there’s definitely a strong case to made for it) the original STAR WARS trilogy. Running at just over two hours, not one solitary moment drags or is included for merely being filler. DAWN is exciting and (for me, at least) the best APES film so far in the franchise. Effort, care and heart was thrown into every frame on the screen. That’s what brings out true cinematic gems (not cashing in on the brand name of some nostalgic toy/cartoon from the past, trying to launch a new series to sell toys, or treating your audience like idiots). DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has the stuff to go down in film history as a phenomenal summer blockbuster that will delight future generations to come.

DawnApes 3

Obvious parallels and power struggles are viewed in both the ape and human societies. I liked the inclusion of this and that it wasn’t too understated either. It showed that both sides in this ongoing battle have their faults. In the human society, the struggle is between Malcolm (played very well by Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (the ever-talented Gary Oldman). Though this battle of wills isn’t necessarily given a huge amount of screen-time, the main focus is where it should be: the apes themselves. That’s part of what made RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES so unexpectedly amazing. Returning to the front lines is Andy Serkis (reprising his Caesar role) and it’s been said everywhere else, but I’d just like to echo the sentiments that this man deserves an Oscar nomination. It’s a motion capture suit performance, but you can see his work in the body language and facial expressions of Caesar. A welcome addition is Toby Kebbell (who I mainly know as Johnny Quid in ROCKNROLLA) as the menacing Koba. Koba appeared in the first film as a memorable part of Caesar’s revolution and has a huge part to play here.

DawnApes 4

The effects of the apes themselves (which was quite good in the first one) is even more stunning this time around. These CGI-animated animals look very real and in some cases, frightening. The action scenes don’t fill every minute of running time. In fact, there are a handful of them (a few of them lengthy), but every second has meaning behind them. The terrifically exciting finale has upped stakes to huge degrees as everything plays out in an exhilarating way. DAWN is made of compelling storytelling with spectacular effects, solid acting, and I felt like watching it all over again the minute it ended.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

The closing minutes of DAWN aren’t necessarily filled with hope, as we all know where things eventually wind up, but turn out infinitely satisfying nonetheless. I can’t find a single complaint that I can level at DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. It’s one of the best movies of the year. I’m also glad that this is going to bank and that another film is due in 2016. It fills me with joy when films like DAWN and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST do well at the box office. It’s a sign that intelligent, carefully constructed summer blockbusters still have a place in the movie scene. They always will. Fox packed a surprising one-two punch with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in 2011. They did with the same this year and hopefully, will deliver with another knockout in 2016. Films like DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES will last in the same way that the original STAR WARS trilogy, BACK TO THE FUTURE, E.T., and other celebrated summer blockbusters have stuck around. This is a perfect movie all around!

Grade: A+

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