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They’re Not Monkeying Around – A review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Title: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 130 minutes
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Summary: Everything we’ve seen up to now leads to this. It’s a perfect storm of events and trust is the first casualty in any war. Man’s arrogance in this case is the exacerbating cause.
The future was foretold at the end of the last movie, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. The virus that was released quickly spread across the globe, wiping out a good portion of the human population.
Small pockets of humanity still exist, spread in cities everywhere. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues in San Francisco where survivors are desperately seeking word of others in the remnants of the United States.
Also throughout the country are colonies of apes who have been liberated and empowered by the virus. They’re survivors and they do that best by not interacting with the human population.
They’ve also returned to their roots, hunting for food and shelter in packs. The movie opens with just such a hunting excursion with Caesar teaching his son the nuances of bringing down pack animals.
The lesson doesn’t go too well when the younger ape is wounded by a bear. Things get worse, though, when members of the colony encounter a human who, in his own distrust, shoots and kills one of the simians.
The human, Carver (Kirk Acevedo) is part of a small group tasked with finding the nearby dam and restarting the generators to provide power for the nearby human colony in San Francisco.
Of course killing one of the ape tribe isn’t likely to endear the humans to the ape colony. The human leader, Malcolm, knows of the benevolence of Caeser (Andy Serkis) and seeks him out to win an understanding.
There are good and bad elements on both sides of the conflict, both seeking to undermine the plans of those that continually seek peaceful coexistence. And therein lies the undoing, potentially, of both species.
In the human colony, leader Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman) has his own plans to keep Earth a human planet. For the simian side, Koba (Toby Kebbell) has his own plans to neutralize the human infestation.
This is an excellent story that builds intrigue and suspense as it goes along. Some events, however, are fairly predictable.
What works, though, is the pathos that develops between both factions. Absolutely we know we want the two groups to find a way to coexist, but much like political factions in today’s world, this proves to be more and more difficult as the backstabbing and undermining expands.
Codes of conduct among the apes are revealed and just as quickly dispelled, proving that even members of the simian faction can be just as distrustful as the humans some apes abhor. The one drawback of the story is Ceasar’s refusal to accept Koba for the treacherous backstabber he is.
Throughout the movie, though, Caeser remains the one unifying force between the two groups. His formative years with Will (James Franco) in “Rise” gave him a unique understanding of humans and thus a tolerance that few other apes have.
The motion capture filming with the simians is virtually flawless. Their character delivery is second to none for poignancy and effect. This is the pinnacle of everything we’ve seen to date yet just the threshold for future efforts in CGI and motion capture filmmaking of the future.
The humans may have it easy by comparison, but acting often with little reference as to their onscreen counterparts is no small feat for these accomplished performers.
Jason Clarke (tapped to star in the next Terminator installment) works well with both his CGI and human co-stars and anchors the human performances. Gary Oldman rarely appears with the monkeys so his job is considerably easier. All the same, he’s on top of his game here.
Keri Russell, Kirk Acevedo and Kodi Smit-McPhee all play off the apes and each other with convincing ease. You can almost believe that the virally enhanced simians are real and the humans are CGI.
Hopefully, given the quality and integrity of the story telling, there will be another sequel. Rarely does Hollywood get updates of classic franchises right, but this time, they absolutely did. And we deserve to see the fruits of this groundwork.
All monkey business aside, I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.