Featured Post

Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Movie Review - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
**viewed in 3D***
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Toby Kebbel, and Gary Oldman
Directed by Matt Reeves

2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a big surprise for me.  I wasn't expecting anything other than some corny mess (Tim Burton's previous attempt at a reimagining of the franchise had ruined things), so when the film worked, I was thoroughly impressed.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes in fact landed at #13 on my Top Films of 2011 list.  Needless to say, because of how much I enjoyed that film, I was worried that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wouldn't be able to hold a candle to it -- I'm very happy to say that my worries were unfounded with Matt Reeves' film taking the franchise in a different direction while still maintaining the "intelligent summer blockbuster" title of the previous flick.

At the end of Rise, ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) has escaped from the experimental medical testing facility where he was held captive and runs off into the San Francisco woods with his fellow apes. As Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens, we see that Caesar is the head of a large society of all different types of simians and they've made their own habitat in the woods.  Caesar has a teenage son, a pregnant wife, and the respect of his fellow apes.

If you remember, when Rise ended, some form of simian flu had infected the human population and we were just beginning to see it spread around the world.  In Dawn, we discover that massive amounts of humans died and those that are living (and immune to the disease) are camped out in barricaded towns, trying their best to survive without electricity, clean water, and basic needs for living.  Hoping to take advantage of a broken dam on the outskirts of San Francisco to create power, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his wife Ellie (Keri Russell), his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and a few others head into the woods near Caesar's sanctuary.  When they meet up with the apes, tension is high.  Caesar agrees to allow the humans to fix the dam, but this doesn't sit well with all the apes including Koba (Toby Kebbel) who feels like the humans will simply wreak havoc once they get their way.

This sets up an incredibly interesting dynamic -- Caesar must try to play both sides in order to keep peace, but neither side fully trusts Caesar and both opposing factions ultimately do things to cause his leadership role to come into question in terms of its effectiveness.  This is a complicated conflict and one that I found refreshingly intellectual for what easily could've been a throwaway summer popcorn flick.

The true success of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, however, comes from the special effects department.  Much like my awe of the first Apes film, I found myself utterly enthralled with the motion capture of Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbel, and all the other actors and actresses who lent themselves to become apes for the film.  The first twenty minutes (maybe more) features nary a human onscreen and you never once felt like you were watching entire scenes of computer generated footage.  There's a seamlessness between the "real" and the "effects" that quite simply provides some of the best visual artistry you'll ever see in a film.  I really have to commend the whole team of fx folks behind this series because they are masterful magicians.

Perhaps it's unfair, but I'm still finding it a little difficult to figure out where someone like Andy Serkis ends and the computer masterminds that create the appearance of Caesar begin.  Serkis certainly brings a lot to the character -- in Dawn, his Caesar is the main character undoubtedly.  This is his film and Serkis (and his fellow effects artists) have crafted a character that grabs the audience and gets them to fully empathize with an ape.  Kudos also to Toby Kebbel whose Koba is frighteningly scary at moments and is probably one of the better "villain" characters I've seen in a movie in a long while.

Unfortunately, the human struggle in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn't nearly as exciting as the ape drama and the film lags a bit whenever the focus is on the homo sapiens.  Attempts at trying to create a backstory for several of the characters to give them some emotional traction flounder a bit.  Because of this, I think Dawn is just a smidge less successful than Rise -- however, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could easily end up on my Best of 2014 list when that rolls around next summer.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

No comments:

Post a Comment