DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
STARRING: Andy Serkis, Jason
Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
2014, 130 Minutes, Directed by: Matt Reeves
watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) twice,
this reviewer makes no apologies for finding it an incoherent mess. It was a
minority opinion to be sure, but a second viewing was unpersuasive in uncovering
the film’s supposed positive values. Thus going into Dawn of the Planet of
the Apes (a title that is arguably a synonym for the first one), there was
not a lot of eager anticipation.
It’s a pleasure, therefore,
to report that Dawn has a much more focused script, that its
special effects are as impressive as any seen in this summer’s blockbusters,
and for those looking for a bit of substance, the film actually has a dark
message about humanity and war. While several of the summer’s films (Godzilla,
X-Men: Days of Future Past,
Edge of Tomorrow,
Transformers: Age of Extinction) have had
plenty of battles and destruction, this is the one that leaves us with
something other than a conventional happy ending.
Ten years after the events
of Rise, most of humanity is dead, wiped out by the simian flu, a
disease caused not by the apes but by the scientists and their experiments
in the first film. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads his tribe of apes
(chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans) in the forests beyond San Francisco,
wondering if there are any human left. It’s no surprise to us – but it is to
the apes – when they learn there is an enclave of survivors in the big city.
The peaceful Malcolm (Jason Clarke) convinces Caesar to let the humans
attempt to get a power-generating dam back into operation. However, some of
the humans hate the apes as mere animals or blame them for the plague, while
Koba (Tony Kebbell) has never forgotten the suffering he enduring as an
experimental animal. As much as Malcolm and Caesar attempt to slowly and
carefully forge a bond of trust, there are others all too eager to undercut
"Special effects as impressive as any in this summer's
In that sense the movie is a parable about war and about the extremists
and hotheads who can do tremendous damage in spite of the positive actions
of others. What good is it that Malcolm’s wife Ellie (Keri Russell) is a
doctor who can treat Caesar’s ailing wife when Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is
ready to arm the humans and totally wipe out the ape population? Essentially
the film is incident after incident where it looks like peace and rational
behavior will prevail, and then someone does something stupid or hateful or
violent. It’s one step forward, three steps back.
The CGI work is astounding
from the rubble of San Francisco, to the ape army on the attack. Where the
work is especially impressive is in making us believe that the apes are
thinking and reacting. Done largely with motion capture technology where
actors like Serkis and Kebbell perform the scene and then their ape
characters are digitally built around them, it represents special effects at
their best. The effects don’t call attention to themselves as effects but
instead are there simply to tell the story and serve the movie.
There are no shirkers among
the actors in the human roles, but special mention must be made of Jason
Clarke. The Australian actor has been quietly amassing credits in film and
on television, sometimes in a leading role but never center stage in a movie
like this. His turn here ought to bring him one step closer to being on the
A list. No doubt the series will continue, and if they maintain the level
of Dawn it will be worth it. Please, though, think up a better title.
Calling film number three Beginning of the Planet of the Apes would
just be silly.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. He recently
released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood
and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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