Saturday, July 12, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Recently I have been thinking about how I am tired of sequels, prequels,  reboots, sequels to prequels, and sequels to reboots.  Every summer we seem to get more of the same old things.  There seems to be no new ideas out there.  I have managed to avoid most of them this year but then came Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thought it a worthy prequel (or is it a reboot I am not sure) of the original 60’s movie.  The trailers for the Dawn made it seem good but I have been fooled before. So with a little trepidation I went to see it.  I can say that I am glad I did.  It does a great job at continuing the story and keeping the characters compelling. 

The movie takes place 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the simian flu has spread throughout the world and kill most of the human population.  Meanwhile the genetically enhanced apes that escaped in the first movie have made their own civilization in the woods outside of San Francisco.  After year of no interaction with humans a few humans stumble into their territory.  These humans are trying to start rebuilding their civilization and want to use a dam near the ape colony to return power to San Francisco.   Caesar (Andy Serkis) the leader of the apes wants to try to keep peace but other apes who were used for testing don’t trust the humans and set out to start a war.  On the human side Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who leads the small group to fix the dam also wants to live in peace but not all humans trust the apes since the apes outnumber them greatly.  The fear of the apes causes their leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) to go and compile quite an arsenal.  Can Caesar and Malcom keep the peace before fear and mistrust causes an all-out war?  Well if you have seen the original movie you pretty much know the answer but who is going to make the first move?

Despite my reluctance to seeing another sequel this movie equaled the quality of the first one and possibly exceeded it.  One thing people keep talking about is the opening sequences which lets us know how the apes have been living for the past 10 years.  After a brief explanation about what happened after the virus spread we get 15 minutes of subtitled action of apes conversing in sign language.  When was the last time you saw a summer blockbuster have 15 minutes of subtitles?  This sequences really gets you into their society.  We see that Caesar has risen to the top and is the alpha male and now has a family.  Also, we see them hunt, and even get a glimpse at an ape school.  It is the beginning of a complex society.  This is where the quality of the writing and direction of Matt Reeves is apparent.  It doesn’t rely on us knowing the characters from the first movie but in that brief time you know everything you need to know about their personalities.  Once the humans make their first appearance the tension is elevated and sustained.

The movie is fairly predictable and that might be because it is a prequel and you know from the start that the two societies will clash.  The way they are able to keep the tension is by keeping you guessing who is going to make the first move.    The other way they keep the viewer invested in the story is through the emotional connection to Caesar.  Andy Serkis and the magicians in the FX department do a great job at conveying the inner turmoil of Caesar.  The whole movie revolves around him. We are scared for him when we think the apes are going mutiny, we worry about his sick wife, we are excited when he gets to hold his baby, and sad when he watches an old video of himself.  Through Caesars eyes we witness what we already know but Caesar is learning, that there is no such thing as utopia and when Caesar has to make some tough decisions it is heartbreaking. 

Since this is mostly an ape story the humans are kind of a side character, but Jason Clarke as Malcolm does a good job of being the voice of reason and gives us a reason to route for the humans.  Like Caesar he wants peace but also sees that the breaking point is coming and he must make a decision which side he will be on.  Gary Oldman’s character on the surface feels like he is supposed to be a villain but never really does much. His character was one of the weaker points in the story and I don’t think it was Gary Oldman’s fault. Not sure if it was miscasting or just a poorly written character.   

One of the things I love about good science fiction movies is that they can make you think about our world at large.  Starting with the classics like the 1927 movie Metropolis which dealt with class differences and into the 50’s with movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still that deals with nuclear war.  These movies made a commentary on society.  The Planet of the Apes series has done the same thing and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no exception.  It makes you think about how wars are started and what people will do when they are scared.  You feel sympathy for both sides and can understand why each side feels the way they do. Neither side is right and neither is wrong.  They’re just two societies that are scared of each other and unwilling to sit down and talk because of mistrust.   

There were a couple of minor things I had issues with during the movie. First as mentioned before Gary Oldman’s character just didn't work for me not sure why. Also I did see the movie in 3D and it was absolutely useless.  It wasn't bad like in other post converted movies but served no purpose.  The last thing that didn't completely work for me was Michael Giacchino’s score.  There were parts where the music didn't seem to fit what was happening on the screen.  None of these issues took away from my overall enjoyment of the movie. 

Overall 5 out of 5 stars
It has some great special effects and action on one hand and on the other it is a movie that you can think about for days as you realize some of the subtle messages. It is the best kind of sci-fi.  Perfectly directed by Matt Reeves and great writing by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver.  

And one last time enough can’t be said about the amazing motion capture work that is in this movie.  All the apes feel real and Andy Serkis keeps out doing himself with his motion capture performance.  While there might be talk about him getting an Oscar nom I don’t think he will especially as a lead. He had a better possibility in the supporting category for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  But for sure the movie will get an Oscar nom for special effects. 

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