Release Date: July 11, 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Larramie Doc Shaw, Lee Ross, Keir O’Donnell, Kevin Rankin, Jocko Sims, Al Vicente, Matthew James, Richard King
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes
Production Company: Chernin Entertainment
Distributors: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
I can admit after seeing Rise of The Planet of The Apes I was a little disappointed that director Rupert Wyatt wasn’t coming back for the sequel. It’s not always a guarantee that directors returning will guarantee a hit, but it’s nice to imagine the chemistry created develops a cohesiveness with the cast and crew that feels like a warm family gathering during the holidays. Though at times a fresh artist can pick up where the last great one left off, and deliver something groundbreaking that will leave its rightful place in cinematic history. That’s exactly what new director Matt Reeves accomplished with Dawn of The Planet of The Apes. His nearly perfect film provided an outstanding new take that’s not only entertaining, but teams up with Weta Digital (from the first film), and pushes the envelope in grand fashion of what technology can show in theaters today. Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is a fantastic film with a complex story, breathtaking effects, tense conflicts, characters you’ll love, characters you’ll hate, and an enormous wake up call for society and everyone in it.
As you can tell from the marketing, the s**t has hit the fan for humanity as most of the world has withered away. Ten years have passed since the outbreak of the simian flu, and only a small percentage of humans remain. With minimal resources left, it seems there’s no hope, and everyone is desperately trying to survive. The story picks up with a prologue giving you brief outtakes of the past decade, then goes smack in the middle to the home of the intelligent apes we have come to love from the past film. Matt Reeves knew exactly what the audience wanted to see, and spends at least the first twenty minutes with the apes alone. He shows how they’ve matured into a civilization that has flourished into a new genetically intelligent species that not only are organized, but has their own moral codes and rules to live by.
What’s even more fascinating are the effects done by Weta Digital. The king of motion capture Andy Serkis (Caesar) provided a performance that is emotionally believable, and real world photo realistic. Seriously! Everyone involved with the first film did an amazing job bringing life to the character(s), but what they did here you can only react with, “Hot Damn!” It was ridiculous on the side of spectacular with how far they’ve gone with the technology. There are hundreds of apes if not thousands, and each one had their own distinct look besides the moments some were wearing war paint. What was so smart flowing naturally with the narrative was some of the apes were notable due to certain scars they received in battle, or going on hunting missions for food. There wasn’t one time I was confused with what ape was taking center stage, and each brought their own personality to each sentient being. Each ape, gorilla, or orangutan was distinguishable through a scar, war paint, size, facial expressions, mannerisms, or just their design itself. In other words, each ape looked as different to each other as humans differ from one another. Even down to the infant sized apes, and the way they interacted with the humans was definitely something to be proud of.
On top of how great Caesar looked, Andy Serkis brought so much life to the character. He was like a human unto himself taking ownership of everything that crossed his path. Just him standing tall alone demanded your respect, and it was received from both the humans and the apes. What helped was Caeser’s upbringing from the previous film allowing him to see both sides of the spectrum. He’s the only ape that has any true knowledge of what the humans are going through with their struggle for survival. His first few years to teenage years were on the human side of life, and previous ten with his own kind. That makes him the perfect leader for his community, and even more perfect for the conflict that’s on the horizon. The film even followed rules set from the first film, as he learned to actually speak English. It took him years to yell his first words, “NOOOO!” which follows suit with him and the rest of the apes in their new home. His vocabulary has increased dramatically (as well as some of the apes from the past), but it’s not to the level where he could host his own talk radio show. It’s a smart decision to make, and just makes the film feel more grounded and/or realistic. Another great note about his leadership is he’s not a dictator and respects his fellow apes around him. He thinks before he acts knowing that even if it’s obvious his race is stronger than the humans that an all-out war would still bring death to some of his family. That doesn’t make him a pushover. When the time comes he’ll round up the troops and make a stand letting everyone know what the real deal is. Basically, “Don’t start no shit, won’t be not shit” is one of the many codes he lives by. He’s not gullible, but cautious, yet sensitive while still showing strength. If you loved his character in the last film, you’ll want to marry him this time around (maybe not but you get the idea). He even shows compassion when he’s betrayed which is great, and causes even more tension whether that be with the humans or apes. In short, the apes couldn’t ask for a better leader.
Stepping over to the human side of things they’re present, and most are still as ignorant as can be. Sometimes when the answer is front and center some still choose to walk a difficult path. There are bad crabs in every barrel, and some characters you’ll want to jump through the screen yourself, and perform your own ape stomp to their face. All the humans aren’t bad of course, and they have their warm moments you’ll love too. There are a few scenes of the apes and humans interacting just trying to share their way of life, and the bonding will only bring smiles to your face. Thoughts of what a great place the world could be if we just take our time and work together are hidden like Easter eggs throughout. There’s a common interest here, and that’s survival for both humans and apes, so there’s a significant bond that can be created. Though like every population there are those who still are dumbfounded, and can be that idiot to ruin it all. Fortunately they received what they deserved, and that price was paid from their actions. At the same time you can definitely understand where both sides are coming from who don’t want to work together. Some were tortured all their lives living in cages, and experimented on, but the fear of giant apes that walk, talk, and ride horses totting spears is understandably not the ideal dinner guest. Though you still have to look at all that’s lost and not cater to more destruction from your own selfish desires. It’s simply great writing that creates the tension which is compelling, and is a marvelous way to move the story along.
Early I stated the film is nearly perfect, and it truly is. No spoilers here but you know there’s a war coming, and that element is one that put a damper on the film for me. I had a guilty pleasure wanting to see intelligent apes throw down with humans containing, guns, spears, horses, but the decision made by one or some of the characters that actually sparked the war was a bit of a disappointment. I give credit to the filmmaker by misleading you through the marketing which adds an even more powerful dynamic, but I’m saddened by this process that turned one of my favorite characters who was loved and respected into someone I despised. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t handled well and with precision. Everything that followed that incident made sense to the highest degree, and even taught our main hero Caesar another lesson that he was destined to learn. It just goes to show how the imagination can wonder when you ask that question of, “what if it would have happened this way instead?” The film closed on an emotional number and even promises for another worthy sequel. Though it’s still not clear if everyone learned from their past mistakes to develop a more positive future. Another downer for me is while at this moment it concentrated on the apes, I don’t feel the film closed out properly with the human side, and I wanted a little more from them and the aftermath. Just a few more minutes of footage would have justified this problem, but I’m sure the decision was made to tease us for more (can’t wait to see the extended cut which has already been announced by the director).
Great films like Dawn of The Planet of the Apes don’t come around too often, and that’s a shame from the tremendous job that was done here. It’s a science fiction post-apocalyptic adventure that will cater to everyone, having them raving to their friends about the experience they just had. I honestly can’t wait to see this again, and once you do I’m sure you’ll agree. Especially since it has characters you can learn from, and being socially relevant displaying how destructive a prejudice mindset can be. For the second reboot in the series everyone involved hit this one out of the park. What’s even more exciting is director Matt Reeves is already signed up to return, and I can’t wait to see what new additions he adds to the pot. There are so many places the story could go next, and the conclusion teases you at all the right places. That may appeal to more seeing that while I loved this film, I still wanted a little bit more in the end. That’s the same argument I had with the first film while that was still near perfection, but it really doesn’t matter seeing majority of the time I was smiling literally from ear to ear.