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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Reviewed by Tegan Hendrickson, @artful_username, © 2014

Format: Movie
By:   Rupert Wyatt (director), Matt Reeves (director)
Genre:   Apes!
Review Date:   July 27, 2014
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Like many, I was disappointed in Tim BurtonĎs Planet of the Apes. I can see where he was trying to go with it, but it just left a bad taste in my mouth and the mouths of a lot of folks Iíve spoken with. So, when they announced there was going to be another attempt at rebooting the franchise, I rolled my eyes. There was no way people would make the attempt again. I didnít see Rise of the Planet of the Apes in theaters. I think I was protesting or I just wasnít into it. Who knows?

I was scrolling through the available movies on HBO Go last year and I found it. Well, it was there and I didnít have to pay any extra money for it. Why not watch it, right?

Holy shit, you guys. It was good. No, not just good. Good doesnít really do it justice. It was great.

All Will Rodman (James Franco) wanted was to find a cure for Alzheimerís so he could help his father, Charles Rodman (John Lithgow). He was experimenting on chimpanzees with a viral drug that they discover boosts cognitive function. A random turn of events brings Caesar (Andy Serkis) into Willís life. Itís hard to raise a chimpanzee and Will ends up getting help from chimp expert Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Of course, the day arrives when Will can no longer keep Caesar at home and heís forced to hand him over to a primate shelter under the care of John Landon (Brian Cox) and his unpleasant son, Dodge (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter.).

You can imagine how things went after that.

The thing that struck me about this movie was how it kept with one of the underlying themes of the original franchise. Mankindís worst enemy is, as always, itself. In searching for a miracle drug, they end up unleashing very unintended consequences. On top of that, the performances by the entire cast were fantastic, particularly John Lithgowís. Man, oh man. He was just so good. While Iím giving kudos, I want to give credit to Andy Serkisí mocapped performance as Caesar and the animators who brought the ape cast to life.

The other theme that the film touched on was what it means to be a person. Caesarís struggle as a smarter-than-the-average-ape in a world that treats him unfairly and underestimates him comes through the screen beautifully. Thereís a surprising amount of depth in this movie.


What worked for this movie that didnít work for Tim Burtonís attempted reboot was they went back to a more basic story. I loved that they found a believable way to tell the story of how Earth became a planet of the apes. While we know how this story is going to end, watching their new take on the journey is fantastic. So, yes, while you may feel as I did once, youíre doing yourself a disservice by not checking this out.

To say that the bar I set for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was higher than my average movie bar would not be a misstatement. The film did not disappoint. It leaped over the bar and then brachiated over even higher bars. Thatís the kind of movie weíre talking about, man.

I promised I would keep my review spoiler-free. This is going to be an exciting, but doable, challenge. That said, if you havenít seen the first movie, you shouldnít be reading this review if you donít want to be spoiled for its ending. Otherwise, here we go.

The movie starts where the first one left off. Humanity has been exposed to the virus they have now dubbed as the ďsimian flu.Ē Despite its best efforts at quarantining the contagion, itís all for naught as people continue to die in droves. Governments and civilization as we know it collapse under the weight of the dead and strain of the survivors. The apes, on the other hand, have created their own little world and are thriving in the forest they call home. It is now ten years after the events of the first movie.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still the leader of the apes and he tries to guide them with a firm but fair hand. When they encounter their first humans in two years, a group led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a vocal faction of apes led by Koba (Toby Kebbell) wants to kill them all. That knee-jerk, speciesist sentiment is shared by some humans as well, notably Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). The small band of humans and apes come to an uneasy truce.

That doesnít sit well with everyone involved and, as you can guess, things go poorly. By poorly, I mean things go terribly wrong. The movie does a fantastic job of illuminating the different sides of the conflict and their motivations without hitting the audience over the head.

So many things about this movie just blew me away. From the deliciously Shakespearean political plot to the action that keeps the audienceís gaze glued to the screen, thereís so much packed into this movie that you want it to just keep going and going.

Whatís also remarkable is seeing just how far computer technology has come. The animators did an outstanding job of capturing the fantastic motion capture performances of their ape actors and imbuing the digital performances with such real emotion and expressions. Itís just phenomenal. Furthermore, the movie was shot beautifully. Director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin have such a wonderful eye for iconic imagery.

I donít often talk about movie scores these days and I really should. I am a huge sucker for movie scores and only seem to notice when the score doesnít really work for the film. That said, I want to talk about the awesomeness of Michael GiacchinoĎs score. I donít necessarily have the musical vocabulary to accurately list all of the reasons why the score is awesome, but Iím going to mention that his use of unrelenting percussion to heighten the tension is marvelous and perfect for this movie. This score is certainly one that I am eager to add to my collection.

Long story short, I loved this movie and am looking forward to catching it again.

Final Thoughts
While there are a couple of random plot holes, they donít detract from the enjoyment of the film. That said, I feel comfortable offering a few pieces of constructive criticism.

Guys, Iím not just going to stand back and say nothing when you have a lack of female characters in a movie. Yes, I get that this is a movie about apes and not people and therefore you might feel that youíve got diversity covered.

That said, there are only two named female characters in the movie. One is Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesarís wife, and the other is Elise (Keri Russell), Malcolmís significant other. While they are important to the main male characters and therefore somewhat important to the plot, they mostly seemed to be there just because they were important to Caesar and Malcolm.

One of the movieís themes is the relationship between fathers and sons, echoing one sub-theme from the first film. Caesar and his son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), donít see eye to eye and Malcolm is driven by his desire to make a better world for his son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee). While the plot arc between Caesar and Blue Eyes comes across well, the human paternal plot feels hollow by comparison. Who knew Iíd ever be saying that, right?

Despite those quibbles, itís still a fantastic movie thatís left me super excited to see where this franchise heads next. Is it 2016 yet? No? Damn it.

Fine, Iíll be patient.


See more of Tegan Hendrickson at JustTegan.com and on the RevolutionSF Roundtable podcast.

 
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