Loading…
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
HomeA&EMovies
Published: Friday, 7/11/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ declares war on the summer box office

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Apes revolt in this scene from ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’ Apes revolt in this scene from ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION Enlarge

Rise of the Planet of the Apes left audiences hanging with its “to be continued” subplot of a global pandemic.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wastes no time revealing that the worst-case scenario came true: in the decade since, most of humanity succumbed to the deadly “simian virus,” leaving civilization in ruins.

From there, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) expands the 2011 reboot’s modest story of how the apes came to be with a dark and surprisingly ambitious epic that satisfies at every turn, achieving a standard for sequels not easily met. It bests its begetter in every way.

The story picks up with the genetically enhanced simians, last seen revolting against their human captors and fleeing into the wild, living in a tree village in a forest outside of San Francisco.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by: Matt Reeves.

Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

A Twentieth Century Fox release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.

Rating: PG-13 for language and violence.

Running time: 130 minutes.

Critic’s rating: ★★★★½

Stars Andy Serkis, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Karin Konoval.

Ape city is led by hyper-smart chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis, who deservedly receives top billing in this film), the first of his kind, and who freed his fellow monkeys and apes and gave them the same experimental drug that enhanced his intelligence to human level.

And now they too are evolving their IQs at an astonishing rate. The apes sign. They write. They talk. They carry spears. They even ride horses. And thanks to impressive CGI and terrific motion-capture performances, they look believable doing it.

If Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quash the silly argument that the brilliant onscreen work of Serkis — the Laurence Olivier of motion-capture performance best known for his Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy — isn’t really acting in the grand traditional sense, then it’s simply a lost cause.

From left, Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smith-McPhee and Enrique Murciano in a scene from the film. From left, Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smith-McPhee and Enrique Murciano in a scene from the film.
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION Enlarge

Even as the apes thrive, surviving Homo sapiens struggle in a San Francisco colony led by two men, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), with the hopes of restoring power and civilization, and then contacting others to join them.

While neither the humans nor the apes are aware of each other, once they’‍‍re outed in a forest showdown it isn’‍‍t long before each species is ready to annihilate the other. Only Malcolm and Caesar can prevent war, but to do that, they must first learn to trust each other and then get others to believe them and to lay down their weapons. It won’t be easy: Caesar’s close friend and second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), despises humans and bares the scars of their mistreatment, while Dreyfus doubts the beasts will do anything but act in self preservation, which means killing the humans.

Caught up in this battle for the planet are Malcolm’s kindly family, wife Ellie (Keri Russell) and son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who also want peace with the apes, and Caesar’s teenage son River (Nick Thurston), who won’‍t believe dad that some humans are trustworthy. While Clarke, Oldman, and Russell have their key dramatic moments, it’‍s the apes that generate much of the film’‍s emotional pull, first in fear of the bloodshed to come and later in sadness when it arrives.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may be a war movie, but its conscience is never silent, a testament to the performances of Serkis, Kebbell, and Karin Konoval as the sweet and empathetic orangutan Maurice, as well as the technical artistry in making these CG beasts so utterly alive.

Reeves keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, with well-executed and designed action sequences. Watching an ape army on horses galloping into battle is silly in practical terms, yes, but somehow believable and even exhilarating within the confines of this world.

Andy Serkis as Caesar in a scene from the film, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’ Andy Serkis as Caesar in a scene from the film, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION Enlarge

He also assembles substantive characters — good and bad — for audiences to respond. Shots of Koba silhouetted by flames or even racing through fire might not make for subtle symbolism, but when combined with earlier feats of heroism and heartfelt regret, offer a more complicated and fleshed-out villain than those from the average summer blockbuster.

Working from an original script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who also cowrote Rise of the Planet of the Apes, screenwriter Mark Bomback uses 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes — the fifth and final Apes movie from the original series — as a template for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’‍‍ origin story of the human-ape conflict; similarly, Jaffa and Silver relied on 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes as the premise for how the genetically enhanced apes came to be in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s a challenging if not curious creative direction for the new trilogy, considering Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes were back-to-back disappointments that temporarily KO’d the Planet of the Apes franchise. But in lifting the essential plot elements of those films as part of a new and better Planet of the Apes mythos, the series reboot retains the familiar fantastical and allegorical quality from the original movies while spinning the story forward in fresh and unexpected ways.

As with most middle movies in trilogies, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sets up part 3 rather nicely.

Even better, at this point Reeves and Bomback are attached to see it through.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.

Related stories