The 1968 science fiction film, Planet of the Apes remains a beloved classic. The mostly forgotten four sequels it quickly received, not so much. Likewise, Tim Burton‘s attempted remake/reboot in 2001 was considered lukewarm at best and it seemed like the franchise would finally be forgotten. Then, ten years later, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave new life to the franchise as the remarkable origin story became something of a surprise hit. Now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, continues the story of how hyper intelligent simians became the dominant species on Earth.
Ten years have past since a man-made viral both devastates the human population while enhancing the intelligence of apes exposed to it. The new ape society is thriving, still lead by Caeser (Andy Serkis), isolated in the forest outside of San Francisco. Humans haven’t been seen in two years and Caeser’s tribe is growing peacefully, learning to communicate more efficiently, building houses among the trees, hunting for food, and growing in number. When a small group of humans, presumably immune to the “Simian Flu,” stumbles upon this Village of the Apes, however, this new society is threatened with chaos and violence.
Headed up by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), this expedition is attempting to restore power to the nearby city being built for the area’s survivors. Their goal is the nearby hydro-electric dam, but the plan is wrenched with the discovery of the apes. It’s a race against time to come up with a solution before either Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the leader of the human survivors, or Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caeser’s aggressive adviser, runs out of patience and trust. Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Judy Greer also star. James Franco, thankfully, does not reprise his role from the previous film.
From the beautifully intense opening sequence, it’s obvious that the stars of this film are the hairy primates. It’s no longer a human’s world or story. Primarily told from the perspective of Caeser and his community, there isn’t a lot of time and space left to develop the human characters into much more than archetypes. This may bother some as these characters seem underdeveloped, but I have to wonder if this is intentional, driving home the fact that things are well on their way to becoming the Planet of the Apes, rather than humans, and from the perspective of most of these simians, humans are rather one dimensional creatures.
Even with some of the people here reduced to nearly stock characters, the film doesn’t villainize either side, though it’s pretty easy to root for the monkeys. After all, at least they didn’t kill themselves off with an artificial virus and ensuing war.
This film wonderfully blends the modern aesthetics carried over from the previous installment with iconic imagery reminiscent of the Apes of the 60’s. The digitally enhanced motion capture technology, led by the immensely talented Serkis (who had better get an Oscar nomination one of these days), has progressed to the point of near perfection. The digital monkeys would be virtually impossible to distinguish were they placed side by side with flesh and blood counterparts were it not for their propensity to act like people. You will not be disappointed by the special effects showcased here, other than the 3D which is virtually non-existent. You can feel safe saving those extra dollars and see this one in regular old two dimensions.
Story-wise, the film’s plot is not terribly original. In fact, at one point I was afraid I was going to see a rehash of Avatar(not the most original film either) but thankfully things took a different turn. The plot goes where it needs to though, steering us towards the inevitable conclusion down the road. That’s not to say it feels forced, but it is more or less predictable. It still works as an enjoyable self contained story though, and doesn’t even necessarily require you to have seen the emotionally superior previous installment, though I would certainly recommend it.
This is an intense film with a great beauty to it at times. It looks spectacular and plays very well with good pacing and characters you will care about – even if most of those are apes. There’s a good balance of action, drama, and even some (dark) comedy. It’s definitely a must-see.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“I liked it but some of it was just a little too over the top for me.”
My rating: Four out of five hats
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rises in 3,967 theaters July 11