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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)




Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Film Review: July 17, 2014

07/17/14
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

Chimp leader Caesar attempts to forge peace among all apes, both his brethren and the remaining humans, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Humanity has had a rough 10 years since the events of the last movie. The flu spread in the end credits sequence has wiped out all but a small portion of the population who happen to have a genetic immunity. In the last few years, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his large ape community living in the redwood forest outside of San Francisco have seen no sign of the humans. Father of son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and a new baby boy born at the beginning of the movie to his mate Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar is proud of what he and his friends have built. They have a small village, fortified and somewhat protected from the outside world, and they can think about the future.
But the apes aren’t the only ones thinking about the future. A small band of humans in San Francisco hopes to turn the power back on and attempt to rebuild their society. To that end, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) has led a group of people into the forest to repair a hydroelectric dam. But when one of the men, Carver (Kirk Acevedo), stumbles upon Blue Eyes and his friend Ash (Doc Shaw) walking the forest, this first encounter between man and ape does not go well. Threatened, Carver takes a shot at Ash, and soon the apes are ready for war. Koba (Toby Kebbell), Ash’s father and Caesar’s close friend and lieutenant, wants to attack. A former lab animal, Koba has deep hatred of people. Caesar fears that a war with the humans with put ape lives and accomplishments at risk.
Of course while the apes have Koba, the humans have some hotheads too. While Malcolm and his girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) lobby for peaceful negotiation with the apes, leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants the power back on at any cost — and if that means mass simian destruction, so be it. And then there are the people who fulfill the “blind hatred” component of any culture-versus-culture showdown. Because the pandemic flu was said to have been spread by apes, it is called “simian flu” and Carver blames the apes for all that has happened. With his soft spot for humans due to his upbringing and his desire for progress, Caesar works carefully with Malcolm to try to keep war from breaking out between the species. 
Or, I guess, between the genera, to be technical. 
Your move, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Andy Serkis, long an expert at bringing life to CGI characters, has turned in perhaps his most nuanced and emotion-rich guy-inside-a-motion-capture-suit performance yet. He makes you root for the chimps, or at least for the thoughtful, idealistic Caesar and his family. And then there’s Toby Kebbell, who pulls off, in two scenes, the really awesome task of having Koba “play monkey” to placate some humans — doing the hands in the air, the raspberry, the exaggerated goofiness. The character changes enough, even in the facial expression and the eyes, that we can see what he’s doing, what he’s thinking even. There is even a look of disgust when humans have bought his performance. There’s your arts and sciences right there. I don’t know that there is a convincing argument that it’s any less a performance just because the “make-up” in this case is digital and not rubber. 
Maybe some day, from the perch of 20 years from now, when movies happen around us, Holodeck-style, and we all wear special gloves that let us reach out and touch the scenery, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will look dated. But for now, Dawn reminds me of how I felt watching last year’s Gravity. The effects were so good that I had to remind myself that what I was watching wasn’t actually shot in space. Here, it takes effort to remember that these aren’t real monkeys. The movie does a good job of distinguishing the monkeys from each other and of conveying their relationships with gesture and expression as well as dialogue. And, the impressive part, all of this happens in a way that isn’t stupid. And it could have so easily been stupid. See, for example the 2001 Tim Burton Planet of the Apes.
Dawn makes us care — about the individual characters and the grander implications for both societies. It is a fun variation on the dystopian story: the humans are at the end of their civilization and the apes are at the beginning of theirs. The movie does a nice job of playing with these themes, of juxtaposing tribalism and jealousy and protectiveness in apes and in humans. This is still a summer tentpole — still at least 30 minutes too long, still a little too heavy in applying the big thumping score — but it is remarkably well done all around. B+ 
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language. Directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is two hours and 10 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.
 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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